Over the first month of the season, I've been amazed whenever I tune into a Nationals home game. Almost without fail, there are scads of empty seats behind the plate, giving the appearance that the new and shiny Nationals Park is about as happening as a House committee on ethanol tax subsidies.
Then, about a week ago, I got an explanation from BLS contributor Nick Friedell, who went to D.C. for the Cubs series last week and sent me this report and the picture to the right:
The park was pretty full each day ... except for the section behind the plate. The Nats are charging fans $325 bucks ($335 for premium games, like the ones against the Cubs) for the "Presidential Seats" behind the plate, thus making the place look fairly empty when watching the game on television. A few of my friends called me over the weekend to ask why it was so empty at the park. I told them that it was actually packed, just that the angle they saw on television made it seem otherwise.
Nick's observations were about what I assumed, however we couldn't exactly explain why until this morning. That's when my man Jeff Passan shed further light on the situation, brilliantly tying in the section's high prices and its vacancies with the reformed lobbying laws on Capitol Hill:
Part of Washington’s allure, when Major League Baseball planned the move from Montreal, involved the potential fan base. Smart, fanatical and, best of all, with loads of disposable income.
Then Jack Abramoff tried to buy off all of Washington. New lobbying laws soon followed, and now the maximum gift given to a lawmaker cannot exceed $50. Which means all the Presidential tickets – $325 for single-game ones, $335 on Saturday and $400 for the front row, all more than the best seat at Yankee Stadium, which goes for $250 — that should have gone from lobbyist to Congressman to hard-working staffer no longer exist, and the market won’t get any hotter unless the Nationals do, too.
So yeah, there's that.
As both Nick and Jeff pointed out, the problem probably isn't going to be fixed anytime soon. Unless, of course, some common sense prevails and the Nationals trot out an emergency plan.
Which is where I come in.
At this point, the team should just go ahead and fill the unsold seats with other fans from across the stadium. Whether they do it through some sort of merit contest, a hula hoop race or by beauty pageant doesn't matter. The main thing is that the fill those seats because there's no way that the barren view the television cameras are showing every night can be good for business.
After all, if they're going to be empty anyway, why not 'give away' the seats and buy a lifetime's of good will from the lucky recipients (who already paid to come out the park anyway)? Full seats translates into Nationals Park looking like an exciting place to be and that leads to increased ticket sales.
Plus, as Passan pointed out when I floated this idea to him this afternoon, you never know when those "fill-in" fans might again buy the seats for a special occasion.
I'm sure there are any numbers of reasons why Nats president Stan Kasten would shoot down that plan, but you have to admit, it makes a lot more sense then what's happening now.