Food, parking, organ music, and other changes at Nationals Park for 2013

The swagger that comes with high expectations wasn’t the only new thing on display at Nationals Park on opening day Monday. The Nationals have made a number of small changes to the ballpark experience for 2013.
Championship banner at Nationals ParkNationals Park Scoreboard Walk PhotoNationals Park Clubhouse Team StoreNationals Park Organist - Washington Nationals

In the park itself, NL East Champion banners now hang above the centerfield gate entrance, above the center field HD scoreboard, and outside the Presidents Club. The giant Scoreboard Walk photo has also been changed to feature Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in the 2012 playoffs. In the scheme of things, the signage changes are small, which makes the recent whining by a prominent Phillies blogger all the more perplexing.

More significant are the retail changes. One of the two banks of ticket windows on N Street NW has been replaced by a flagship team store, and several team concessions inside the park have been renamed “Clubhouse,” with new locations added around both the main and mezzanine concourses. In some cases, these new concession locations block formerly open views of the field from the concourse.

For those who drive to Nationals Park, expanded retail development in the area is taking its toll on Nats’ official parking lots. Since Nationals Park opened, lots G, J, M, N, V, and HH have disappeared from the Nationals’ official parking options.

This season, the disappearance of $5.00 lot HH from the official parking map caused concerns for budget-minded drivers. We recommended this parking option in previous years, so it was some relief to find that the lot is in fact still operating on a cash basis. The price is now $10, and still a bargain.

The Nationals had an organist playing in the center field plaza before Monday’s game, and word on the street is that it was a trial run, with the Nats’ brass considering making it a permanent fixture at games. Notably absent from Monday’s opener were persistent scoreboard cheer-starters, noise meters, and other artificial enticements we’ve come to expect. Logic holds that if the Nats keep winning and selling out, it shouldn’t take more than a little organ music (and a couple of Bryce Harper home runs) to get the crowd going.

Nats fans still mourning the departure of slugger Michael Morse via trade got a bittersweet surprise during the seventh inning stretch. After “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” fans were treated to A Ha’s “Take On Me,” Morse’s walk-up song that became a crowd favorite in 2011 and 2012. Morse may be in Seattle now, but if fans continue to sing along, expect the Nats to keep using it.

Turkey Hill Ice Cream and Papa Johns Pizza at Nationals ParkShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaPresidents Race Intro Video2013 brings new food options to Nationals Park, some of which may not be welcome. On the pizza and ice cream front, Flippin’ Pizza and Breyers have been replaced by Papa Johns and Turkey Hill. Papa Johns was the team’s pizza purveyor from 2005 through 2009, and fans cheered its departure three years ago when their bland mini pizzas were replaced by actual slices by Flippin’ Pizza. Unless the product has changed, this feels like a step backwards.

In the centerfield food court, local favorite Red Hot & Blue has been ousted in favor of H Street Lebanese mainstay Shawafel. Shawafel serves a selection of Lebanese wraps containing shawarma (chicken or beef/lamb), felafel, or fried cauliflower, plus french fries that are unquestionably the best at Nationals Park.

Shawafel is a nice, if redundant, addition. Max’s Kosher Grill serves superior felafel and shawarma on the other side of the concourse, but being kosher, they are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

Up in the Club level, we’re told to expect cupcakes from Fluffy Thoughts Bakery in McLean. These are hands down the best cupcakes in the DC area, and Fluffy Thoughts is concocting some special baseball-themed flavors for Nationals Park. More on that later.

Of course, 2013 brings a major change to the fourth inning presidents race, where the Nats have introduced a fifth racing president, William Howard “Bill” Taft. The presidents are being introduced by a new video that was created during February’s cross-country trip to Mount Rushmore, with presidents dashing from Mount Rushmore through various landmarks on their way to the starting line at Nationals Park.

Perhaps the biggest change to the off-the-field experience is the introduction of Ultimate Ballpark Access cards for season ticket holders. The program promises many benefits that have yet to be introduced, so we’ll withhold judgment for now. The Nats have been very quick to fix early mistakes with the way cards are managed, so as flawed as it may be, it may be wise to wait a few months to see how the the program develops. One exception: Season ticket holders looking for a souvenir paper ticket are being charged $3.00 each for something that looks like it came out of an inkjet printer. The Nats should kill this fee if they can’t at least improve the quality.

What do you think of the changes so far?

New food & other changes for 2012 at Nationals Park

The Strasburger 8 pound burger at Nationals ParkAfter taking their first two series on the road, the Nats bring a winning record back to DC Thursday to kick off what many hope will be a new era noted for Curly Ws on South Capitol Street; but the changes in store for the home opener at Nationals Park go beyond the team’s winning ways.

New food options

Nationals Park food offerings have once again been updated in the off-season, with the most press going to the 8-pound Strasburger, a monstrous $59 offering meant for sharing and available only for select games at the Red Porch restaurant above center field. It will make it’s debut on opening day.

The Taste of the Majors stand behind section 117 has once again received a menu update with new and constantly-changing dishes that represent the visiting team. Look for 5-way Cincinnati Chili for the opening series against the Reds.

The Union Square restaurants along the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk are adding a number of menu items, including hot dogs, pies, and Sweet Frites at Box Frites, Quesadillas and Churros and El Verano Taquería, and a fried chicken sandwich at Blue Smoke.

The former location of Florida Rock cement factory outside Nationals ParkAnacostia River Walk near Nationals ParkA turning point for the neighborhood

Many expect 2012 to be a turning point for the team on the field, and as timing would have it, it’s looking like a turning point for the neighborhood outside the stadium as well.

Outside the First Base gate, the long-envisioned river views from Nationals Park are finally beginning to take shape, as the Florida Rock cement factory that stood between the stadium and the river has finally been demolished.

For the first time, fans can walk along the river from a new bridge by Nationals Park to the new Yards Park development, including the Foundry Lofts building, which houses the first of several new restaurants.

Before and after the game

Half Street Fairgrounds at Nationals ParkHalf Street Fairgrounds outside Nationals ParkOn the opposite side of the field, the Half Street Fairgrounds makes its debut just across from the Centerfield gates, on the block formerly occupied by The Bullpen. The Half Street block is now dotted with an array of brightly-painted shipping containers stretching from M to N Streets, with each containing a different local food stand. Look for trucks from Bayou and Surfside, plus Red Hook Lobster Pound, DC Empanadas, Curbside Cupcakes, Tasty Kabob, Big Cheese, and others, with live entertainment before and after games. Fairgrounds owner Jason York told ABC 7 News they are “combining Eastern Market with food trucks.”

What hasn’t changed

Parking around Nationals Park remains a great value. Prices did not go up, and lots are as cheap as $5 if you’re willing to walk 10 minutes up South Capitol street. In previous seasons, availability has not been a problem, but lots fill fastest for sellout weekday games such as Thursday’s opener, so plan ahead.

Strasburger photo via Twitter by Tracee Wilkins

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park gains momentum with first five area locations

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park appears to be here to stay.

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park - LogoSince we first wrote about the venture, which aims to give suburban Nats fans a new transportation alternative, the fledgling company has established pricing, lined up its first five official Ballpark Bus Stations, and begun taking reservations at www.BallparkBus.com with ticket prices as low as $15/game.

“The response we’ve received from Nats fans has been excellent,” said co-founder Brian Bowman. “As baseball season creeps closer and closer, we expect our reach to expand exponentially.”

BallPark Bus to Nationals Park - Official Station

Participating restaurants are pitching in to market the service in the hopes of becoming suburban hubs for Nationals fans

Initial demand was strongest in suburban Virginia, where all five of the first Ballpark Bus Stations are located. They include Clyde’s restaurant in Ashburn, The Greene Turtle in Ballston, Velocity Five in Centreville, Glory Days Grill in Reston/Herndon, and The Greene Turtle in Sterling.

“A lot of folks in Maryland are asking when they’re getting a station, particularly along I-270,” added Bowman. “They can rest assured that we are looking at several potential locations.”

How it works

The Ballpark Bus system is modeled after regional bus models, where discounts are provided for booking early and routes are added based on meeting a minimum level of demand.

Reservations for each series will open three weeks prior to the first game, and those booking in the first three days of availability get a discounted price. Riders can sign up for email alerts to get notified when discount tickets go on sale for future series.

What if they don’t hit the minimum number of riders? Bowman says if they are unable to reach the minimum, they will notify all reservations via e-mail “several days before your game.” No payments are processed until the bus is confirmed. When a bus is confirmed, tickets are sent via email and remaining seats are sold up until game day.

Bowman says participating restaurants are playing a big part in getting the word out, as they try to establish themselves as suburban hubs for Nationals fans. At least one, the Greene Turtle in Sterling, is offering 20% off food purchases when you show your Ballpark Bus ticket.

Expect the Ballpark Bus team to try to inject a little fun for riders as well, such as a free Ryan Zimmerman autographed baseball for one lucky rider to the Nats home opener. “We’ll be doing fun stuff like that all year,” says Bowman, “Guess how many strikeouts Strasburg will have on the way to the game, and we’ll reward gift cards and other prizes to the winners on the way back home.”

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park gives suburban Nats fans a new transportation alternative

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park - LogoBrian Bowman was a Nationals fan with a problem.

A Nats fan “since the beginning,” Bowman, 33, never bought season tickets because his family lives in Ashburn, Virginia, and could only take so many taxing rush hour drives through suburban traffic to reach Nationals Park. “I’m not near the Metro,” Bowman says, “and the drive can be hard.”

This season, he’s teaming with two friends to do something about it.

The three Virginia natives have joined to launch Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park, a service that shuttles fans en mass from restaurant parking lots in suburban Maryland and Virginia to Nationals Park and back.

“We want to turn something mundane like getting to the game into something relaxing and fun,” said Bowman. “The Ballpark Bus adds to the total fan experience.”

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park Website ballparkbus.comThe service will start taking reservations at BallparkBus.com in March, well in advance of the Nationals April 12 home opener. Until then, the website points to their new Facebook page, where they are asking for feedback to determine which locations have the most demand.

The service will rely on the web and social networks to schedule fan buses based on need. “It’s a new concept of mass transit on demand,” says Bowman.

Fans can request a free reservation to any game from the participating restaurant that’s closest to them. Once a request has been made, “social tools” help fans recruit additional passengers from their own social networks and on the website. When enough reservations are made, the location is officially added to the ticketing schedule, with those early reservations receiving a discounted seat price.

Ballpark Bus will drop fans off just outside the first base entrance to Nationals Park at Potomac Avenue on the Anacostia River, which should add to the appeal compared to remote parking or Metro.

In addition to the Facebook page, Ballpark bus has posted a video showing how it works:

Bowman, who is an Art Director at a local agency, plans to add some “fun promotions” for bus passengers, but isn’t pitching Ballpark Bus as a party bus. The team is still working out whether alcohol will be allowed.

Pricing has not been published, but “will be competitive with other forms of transport to the park such as Metro and parking,” said Bowman. “A top priority for us is to keep the price down so its family friendly.”

Bowman is hoping the service can help grow the ranks of Nationals fans from locations as disparate as Loudon, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince Georges, Prince William and Anne Arundel counties, adding “We want to get information from the riders and build it around what they want.”

As of this morning, the site’s Facebook survey showed an early preference for locations along I-66 (Tysons, Fairfax, Centerville, Manassas), followed by the Dulles Toll Road (Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn), I-270 (Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown), and I-95 South (Springfield, Lorton, Woodbridge).

Photos courtesy Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park

Candlelight vigil for Wilson Ramos tonight at Nationals Park

Free Wilson Ramos Candlelight VigilThe entire nation of Venezuela along with baseball fans and concerned citizens in DC and around the world have been on edge since Wednesday night, when news broke of the kidnapping of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos.

Following last night’s candlelight vigil held outside the stadium in Ramos’ home town of Valencia, local fans are building momentum for a similar vigil
to be held tonight outside Nationals Park.

This is an unofficial event, organized by fans. The gathering will begin at 6:00pm outside the Nationals Park center field gate. Dress warmly and bring your own candles, signs, etc.

Please note that the Navy Yard Metro station is closed for maintenance. Free shuttle bus service will operate between the L’Enfant Plaza and Southern Avenue stations to closed Metro stations.

For those wishing to drive, note that parking meter enforcement will not be in effect in observance of the Veterans Day holiday. There will be no enforcement of residential parking or rush hour lane violations, which means parking should be plentiful.

For up-to-date info, you can follow the Twitter hashtag #vigilforramos.



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Changes for 2011 at Nationals Park

The new-look Nationals begin their first extended homestand at Nationals Park tomorrow, bringing a 4-5 record and a renewed sense of confidence to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers beginning Tuesday night.

It’s an exciting time to be a Nats fan. The many changes on the field have the Natosphere buzzing, and fans heading to Nationals Park have a number of off-the-field changes to look forward to as well. Some of the highlights:

R.I.P. Natstown

With Stan Kasten officially out of the way, the Nationals Marketing department appears to have gotten its act together for 2011.

As we first saw when the new uniforms were announced, and observed on opening day, the team’s cacophony of colors, logos, and slogans has been wisely narrowed to a simple focus on the “Curly W” and the color red.

Yes, the seats are still painted blue, but that remains the exception as the curly W and the new, brighter red have taken over the flags, banners, uniforms, scoreboard, and ad campaigns for the team. For a team still building its identity, it’s a welcome evolution of the Nationals brand.

Accordingly, the original block “Nationals” logo has disappeared, as have all references to “Natstown.”

If you are an official citizen of Natstown, it appears that your passport will not be renewed.

In-between the action

Every new season brings a few changes to the complement of “down time” distractions for the casual fan. Among those is the player’s annual selection of personal walk-up music. If you’re wondering why you’re hearing Guns n Roses and Metallica at Nationals Park, take note. Some of the team’s newest players have brought a little different edge along with their walk-up themes.

Most front-and-center is the addition of radio personality Sarah Fraser to the in-stadium entertainment crew. As I wrote previously, I think she’s a real upgrade and hope readers agree.

Most exciting to fans of the presidents race may be the return of the “classic” racing presidents. Last year, during the All Star Break, the presidents received a significant facelift, with no explanation offered by the team.

It was the last we’d seen of the original, more menacing-looking presidents — until now. The “classic” presidents reappeared at this year’s auditions, and on opening day reclaimed their position as regulars at Nationals home games. Meanwhile, it appears that the “new look” presidents have been relegated to emergency backup and other command appearances.

Where to Park Yourself

New casual seating areas have been added outside the Red Loft, near the Miller Scoreboard Walk, and behind the centerfield plaza, in what was formerly the Kids Zone.

For those driving to Nationals Park, the team’s two discount parking options remain in place at lots HH ($5.00) and W ($10.00), but the private MarcParc lot at M and Half Streets has raised its
rate to $20/game.

Lots of Food Changes

Pastrami at Nationals Park? For the fourth time in as many years, the Taste of the Majors stands have been revamped, but the latest version of the menu is the truest to the original concept — with specialties from around the Nationals League East: a Philly hoagie, Atlanta Chicken and Waffle, Miami cuban sandwich, and from New York, that grilled pastrami on rye.

I can report that the latter was made with authentic Romanian pastrami and swiss, but despite coming right off the grill, was cold as ice.

Fans of the Rough Rider are mourning the elimination of Teddy’s Barbeque, but for a limited time, the popular stand has reemerged in a tent at the Miller Scoreboard Walk. You can get pulled pork and pulled chicken, but alas, no Rough Rider.

The tent will disappear soon, as soon as New York’s Blue Smoke, Shake Shack, Box Frites, and El Verano open behind the Scoreboard Walk.

Also new to the scoreboard walk is Jammin’ Island BBQ, adjacent to the Red Loft, featuring jerk chicken and jerk ribs cooked on an open grill. The menu mirrors some new options being offered to Club and Suite ticketholders in the Stars & Stripes Club, but it’s pricey for an outfield stand, with combo platters costing as much as $16.00.

Other new items at the Stars & Stripes Club include barbeque chicken nachos, braised short ribs, sweet potato fries, pork wingettes, and fish & chips.

Nationals Park regulars know that the most reliably speedy food line can always be found at Hard Times Cafe in the otherwise busy left field concourse.

This season, Hard Times has expanded to two additional locations within the main concourse, behind the first and third base lines. The stands offer all of your Hard Times favorites except for Chili Mac. This should put an end to the oh-so common question “Where’d you get those nachos?”

Along with Budweiser, two other long-time sponsors — NJ’s Curly W Pretzels and Giffords Ice Cream — appear to have completely disappeared from Nationals Park, leaving the Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smoke as the only remaining local signature item (sorry Hard Times, your chili recipe is from Cincinnati).

The former Giffords stand has been replaced by Breyers Ice Cream, which features a knockout Caramel Cookie Dough, but alas, no more milkshakes.

There is one bit of good news for Nats fans looking for a local treat. The popular but elusive DC food truck District Taco has just been awarded a license by the city to park on the street near the Nationals Park centerfield gates on game days.

District Taco offers outstanding homemade tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that put Chipotle to shame.

The Nationals do allow outside food, as long as it’s packaged in a single serving soft-sided container (no hard plastics). Let’s hope the line at District Taco isn’t too long.

Race photo courtesy of Flickr member afagen.

Parking Options at Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals have made some changes to the stadium parking options available at Nationals Park, and for those planning to drive to today’s exhibition game or to Monday’s home opener, it would be wise to take note and to leave a little extra time to get to the stadium.

The free Nats Express parking and shuttle service from RFK Stadium is no longer available, but the team has replaced it with some more convenient and quite inexpensive parking options. These include $5 parking in Lot HH on South Capitol Street under the SE/SW Freeway, and $10 parking in Lot W on M Street SE between 6th and 7th Streets SE.

Washington Nationals - Nationals Park Stadium Parking Map

Last season the private Marc Parc lot on 1st and M St. SW started charging $10 on game days, providing robust competition for the Nats’ official parking, but Marc Parc is raising the rate to $15 this season. The Nat’s new $10 Lot W will be a convenient alternative, and a nice walk down M Street to Nationals Park; however, we predict that the new $5.00 Lot HH will become the most popular, not only because it’s the cheapest Nationals parking option, but because there are plenty of spaces, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll realize that’s it makes for a very easy in-and-out, and the neighborhood walk is nothing to worry about.

We liked Lot HH when it was $15 back in 2008, and were even happier with it when the price dropped to $10 last season. Now, at $5 per game, we just hope it doesn’t fill to capacity before we get there. The location is on South Capitol Street underneath the I-395 ramps — not easy to find if you’re not looking for it, but if you’re heading to the game from Northwest DC or Northern Virginia, it’s very easy to get to from I 395 North. UPDATE: The price increased back to $10 in 2012.

To get to Lot HH from the I-395 N SE/SW Freeway, just take the C STREET SW Exit, follow the ramp up and to the left, and at the end of the ramp, turn right onto Washington Avenue SW. In two blocks Washington Avenue merges onto South Capitol Street. The lot is on the right, after the police lot, just under the highway overpass.

Be sure to leave plenty of time to get to the games. With the National Cherry Blossom Festival filling Metro cars to capacity and causing traffic jams around the Tidal Basin, and President Obama throwing out the first pitch on Monday, expect the bridges to be a mess and the lines at the gate to be long.

Abe goes for homestand sweep Sunday at Nationals Park

Washington Nationals fans filled the stands Saturday night to watch pitcher Collin Balester’s inauspicious Nationals Park debut vs. the Houston Astros.

Despite the home team’s recent string of misfortune, it’s good to see the weekend crowds consistently topping 30,000 regardless of opponent. Great weather has certainly helped, and by now Washingtonians are figuring out that parking at Nationals Park is easy and getting to the stadium is a piece of cake whether driving or taking Metro.

Abe Lincoln extended his presidents race winning streak on Saturday at Nationals ParkUnfortunately Saturday night’s presidents race offered no drama for Teddy fans. Abe Lincoln remains on a tear and showed no signs of letting up, chasing Thomas Jefferson from behind and taking the lead in the stretch to keep his streak alive. Teddy Roosevelt did not appear to even try.

Sunday marks the last game before the All Star break and Teddy’s last chance at presidents race glory for several weeks. If Abe wins, it would be his 7th straight and a first-ever presidential sweep of an entire homestand. Somebody’s got to stop him. Why not Teddy? The weather should be good and tickets are available, so Teddy fans — I hope to see you all cheering him on tomorrow at Nationals Park!

Photo by flickr member afagen

Consider Parking This Weekend at Nationals Park

You’ve heard the ads on the radio. The umpire calls “Strike One. Strike Two. Strike Three. You’re Out!” and the voice over intones “Now you know how it feels to try to find parking at a Nats game.”

Regular readers know that I’m a bit angry about the DC Metro’s horrible negative ad campaign, which has convinced people to stay away in droves by telling them that going anywhere near Nationals Park in a car is a recipe for disaster. You’ve also learned that it’s a complete myth.

In fact, after 6 weeks of ball games, I think it’s fair to say that parking at Nationals Park is at least as easy as taking the Metro.

On Tuesday, I took 20 people from my office in Reston, Virginia to a night at our Nationals’ new stadium. Most had never been, and the reason cited was the perceived transportation hassle. In fact, some said they had turned down tickets previously because it wasn’t worth the transportation nightmare.

We all had a great time. The close game vs. the Phillies kept everybody on the edge of their seats, but the thing that got the most comments from the first-timers was how shockingly easy it was to get in and out. Some took Metro, but most followed the easy parking directions at Nationals.com.

On a weekday evening, using the free Nats Express parking and shuttle from RFK Stadium, it took about an hour from the time we left Reston to standing inside the park at our meeting spot in the centerfield plaza. My boss, who couldn’t get out of the office until after 6:00pm, raced downtown, drove right up to National Park, paid for the cash valet parking and reported it was the easiest stadium parking he’d ever seen.

The Milwaukee Brewers are coming to town tonight for a Memorial Weekend series. The weather will be spectacular, and I can’t think of a better excuse to load the family in the car and drive to the ball park. See for yourself how easy it is, then join me in pleading with Metro to kill this horrible ad campaign.

Parking at Nationals Park? Piece of Cake!

The presidential primaries have got nothing on the Washington Metro when it comes to negative advertising. Every day, I am bombarded by radio ads telling me that if I choose to drive to Nationals park, I will not find parking, miss the entire game, and regret it for the rest of my life.

What’s wrong with this picture?

As thousands of fans can testify, the free Nats Express parking has been a piece of cake since opening day. Simply drive to Lot 8 at RFK Stadium, hop on one of many
waiting shuttle buses, and be at the park in 10 minutes. There is never a traffic problem getting to Lot 8 via 395, and even after a game, the buses move quickly.

This week, as promised, my son and I decided to try one of the new cash parking lots which surround Nationals Park.

We chose Lot HH, because at $15.00 per game it’s the cheapest cash parking option, and while valet parking sounds convenient, it’s not likely to appeal to the masses.

Cash Lot HH at Nationals Park feels like one of those secrets reserved for DC residents in the know. The location is on South Capitol Street underneath the I-395 ramps — not easy to find if you’re not looking for it, but easy to get to from the C Street exit on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

Yes, it sounds like a scary location, but as you can see it was all well-lit, with it’s own traffic light and crosswalk to set you on your way to Nationals Park or back home without any hassles.

The parking lot was practically empty despite a near-sellout game, and the walk to the Nationals Park gate was a safe and leisurely 10 minutes, accompanied both ways by fans heading from the Capitol South metro stop.

As for traffic, here’s South Capitol Street right in front of Nationals Park a half hour before the first pitch on a dreaded weeknight.

So Metro, I have to ask, “Where’s the beef?” In reality, the worst backups I’ve seen near Nationals Park have been at the entrance to the Navy Yard Metro station.

I’m a big fan of Metro, but the team has got to put a stop to this scare campaign, which is keeping people away from the park. Stan Kasten and Adrian Fenty should both be calling for Metro to fire its ad agency and start over.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

This weekend should draw huge crowds at Nationals Park starting with tonight’s game against the Chicago Cubs, and the warm weather plus some well-timed heroics by Felipe Lopez may be just the thing the Nationals needed to spark a turnaround. This is a long homestand, and Nationals fans have probably started to figure out that the Metro’s continuing fear campaign about Nationals Park has no basis in fact.

The Nats Express continues to be a smooth and easy free option for parking at Nationals Park (even on Saturday when DC United will be playing at RFK), and with the Nationals having also announced the availability of cash parking near the park for home games, I may give it a try tonight, just to report on how smoothly it goes. By all accounts, the $15.00 lot is a short, safe, well-lit walk from the park.

With the weather turning warm, I hope to see all of you who’ve been ordering Let Teddy Win! t-shirts to show up and show your support for our favorite president. After each race, the presidents reach the finish line near the Nationals dugout, then head up the aisle by section 127. Wear your shirts tonight and join us in the aisle at the bottom of section 128 with a “Let Teddy Win” cheer in middle of the 4th inning!

The Nationals’ Big Marketing Mistake

After their first complete homestand at the new Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals are ranked 20th among Major League Baseball teams in home attendance, and averaging fewer paid spectators than the team did at this point in their first season at RFK stadium.

Perhaps most striking is the lack of bodies in the new stadium’s most visible seats — the “Presidential Seats” which sit directly behind home plate and serve as a backdrop for televised shots of the batter’s box.

Possible reasons for the lackluster attendance have been much debated. Team president Stan Kasten says he’s “very pleased” with attendance given the cold weather and the hot playoff pursuits of other DC sports teams. Others have cited the high cost of Nationals Park tickets and concessions, or the team’s losing record.

I blame it on The Myth.

The Myth was born from a well-intentioned effort to promote the use of Metro to get to Nationals home games. Team, city, and Metro officials worked their tails off to get the word out. They talked about it non-stop, held press events, and devoted significant advertising and PR dollars to the cause.

The problem? They put the creative message in the hands of marketing amateurs, and the campaign went negative.

Why not? Negative works, right? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are some of the greatest tools in the marketing arsenal. Attacking the competition (in this case, trying to park at the Park) is a time-tested and reliable method of getting people’s attention. Positive is boring.

So the message got delivered, and it wasn’t “Take Metro!” or “Try our free parking shuttle!” The message was clear. Parking is a nightmare. Take Metro or your life will be miserable.

Local news producers love fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It helps them invent drama where none exists. So they jumped on the bandwagon quickly with “public interest” feature stories about how terrible the parking situation is going to be.

A radio ad running non-stop for the last 6 weeks profiles a man who drives around Nationals Park for inning after inning looking for a parking spot. The man is desperate. He is miserable. He misses the entire game. The voiceover intones “Don’t drive and try to park at Nationals Park!”

It worked too well.

I know dozens of people who have shared or partial-season ticket plans. In March, as they picked their games, everybody told me that they were trying to avoid the first few homestands, “to let them get this parking and traffic mess figured out.”

The Myth is that transportation to Nationals Park is a nightmare, and this myth was created by the team itself. I haven’t seen any meaningful traffic, parking, or crowd issues. It’s time for the powers that be to pull this campaign and go positive instead.

What about you? Has perception matched transportation reality? Do you know people who have avoided Nationals Park because of traffic/parking fears? Have you done so yourself?

Nationals Park from photo by Flickr user Ouij.
Navy Yard Metro from photo by Flickr user MissChatter.

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