Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(How Not To) Build a Fan Base

The final father-daughter pre-college activity with the Sole Heir will be a day at the museum of her choosing, followed by a ball game. Today was ticket purchase day, and a reminder if why I don’t go to nearly as many baseball games as I used to.

First stop, the Nats’ web site. You can specify general location by price, and how many tickets. The computer tells you where you’ll sit, and you’ll like it. Take it or leave it. It told me to sit in Section 314, Row H. These seats are just a smidge to the right of home plate, but I’d rather sit a little farther up the line if I could be closer to the front of a section. Too bad for me. Ten years ago you could visit a team’s web site and see the view from your prospective seat. Thirty years ago I walked into Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and get the specific seats I asked for from a man holding cardboard tickets. Now you can’t even pick a section.

I asked the system for different tickets in the same price range. Section 314, Row H. I sensed a whiff if irritability from my monitor, as though the web site was put out over my audacity in challenging its judgment.

I called the Nats’ ticket office and explained my situation to a (barely) living person. He didn’t seem too enthused, and pretended to be surprised at my inability to choose specific seats. I told him what my tradeoffs were, and he asked what section I wanted to sit in. I said the stadium map does not have section numbers, and I didn’t have a specific section in mind, just somewhere I could sit closer to the front.

“Well, man, you have to give me a section number,” he said.

“No, I don’t,” I said, and hung up.

Back to the web site, where I grabbed my ankles and took the final insult. In order for you, the paying customer, to fully appreciate the convenience of no longer being able to choose your seat, charges a $4.50 convenience fee. Per seat. That does not include the $3.50 Order Processing Fee. Nor does it include the $1.75 they charge you to print your own tickets at home. Sum total for two $24 tickets: $62.25, a 30% markup.

Even better, these charges are non-refundable, even if the event is canceled. That’s no big deal for baseball games; they have rain checks. also handles other events, such as concerts. What they’re telling you is, if you happen to have seats for the night Christie Brinkley decides to take Billy Joel back and he ditches the gig, you’re still out the fees. Using our example, that would mean you spent $14 not to go to a concert that didn’t take place. Organized crime has a name for that kind of operation.

It’s not like people are mugging season ticket holders to get into Nats games. Even after a recent eight-game winning streak they’re on pace for a 57-105 record. Two full-time players have higher batting averages than the Nats’ winning percentage. Their five years in DC have produced one non-losing season, when they went 81-81 in 2005. The owners withheld rent payments for several months last year. The ballpark is nice, but it’s no Camden Yards or PNC Park. Management’s sense of entitlement is beyond unbecoming.

We’ll have fun, because The Sole Heir and I always have fun at a ball game. We’re not going to have so much fun that I make dealing with the Washington Nationals a regular source of sporting entertainment, not with the Bowie Bay Sox fifteen miles from my house. Given the Nationals’ record, it’s not like a AA team will play inferior baseball.

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