Why the Lerners want a roof over Nationals Park

News that the Lerners want to add a roof over Nationals Park has caused quite a Thanksgiving week stir among Nats fans, with many questioning the hubris of the request and others calling into question the necessity. Over at The Post, Adam Kilgore and James Wagner have compiled an analysis of rain delays and postponements showing that 88 games have been affected in the team’s first six seasons there.

Whether 88 is a big number or a small number can be debated, but that would be missing the point. The real question for the Lerners (and ultimately for the fans), is how many games had attendance impacted by weather. That number could easily be five times higher.

For better or worse, this is a team that depends on a la carte ticket sales. Even when there was a surge in season tickets after the 2012 season, the team capped sales at about half the stadium capacity, and that includes partial season ticket plans. I don’t know if that was an attempt at manufactured scarcity, or some philosophical statement by the owners, but unless the Nats win several World Series in a short period of time, it is likely to continue to be the state of things for the Washington Nationals.

It’s a much more complicated analysis, so I can only speak anecdotally, but it’s my observation that unless the Orioles, Yankees, or Red Sox are visiting, if the forecast is anything other than sunny and warm, attendance will be somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 capacity. And of course, that’s just announced paid attendance. When the actual weather matches the forecast, the true attendance is always much lower. We’ve all been in Nationals Park when the forecast is cold and drizzly, and it turns out to be cold and drizzly. The place is pretty empty.

I’ve had to list a number of my tickets on StubHub over the years. The consistent #1 determinant of whether they sell is… the weather. When the forecast is bad, even when the game is played without postponement or delay, you can’t give them away. By contrast, when the weather is nice, tickets sell even if it’s the Padres or Astros in town.

For what it’s worth, bad weather includes the inevitable mid-summer heat waves that hit DC every year. When it’s 100 degrees outside and the air quality is Code Red for a day game, there may not be a delay, but the entire first base side of the stands becomes no man’s land.

I’m sure the Lerners have compiled and analyzed this data, and I’m sure it’s compelling.

This of course says nothing about whether a retractable roof would be an eyesore, or what circumstances would determine whether it’s opened or closed. There are surely negatives to the idea; but as a fan I want the team to be able to fill the stadium with other fans.

Filling every seat is the single biggest thing the Lerners can do to make for a better day at the ball park. It pumps the crowd and the team, it throws of the opposing pitchers, and it funds free agents and long-term contracts.

Would a roof drive away some fans? Would it be retractable? Would it be an eyesore and block the sun when the weather is nice? Should the Lerners pay for it themselves? Is it even possible to retrofit a roof onto an existing ball park? All good questions. But it’s a good conversation to have.

Photo: Chris Rief

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