Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Conversation With Stan Kasten


The Baseball Games may well be over for Our Washington Nationals--but this off season may well be as busy as the just concluded 2007 Season. A New Stadium is on the horizon--scheduled to open in Spring, 2008. Thousands of Season Ticket Holders need to have their seats relocated from RFK Stadium to New Nationals Park. All the while--the infrastructure must be put in place and completed before that very first game is played on South Capitol Street. Yet, all of that must be dealt with while Our Team continues to rebuild its franchise on the field of play. Yes, The 2007-2008 Fall & Winter Off Season is a most important time in Our Washington Nationals young history.

And, no better time to find some answers. Questions that Many Fans of Our Washington Nationals might have--looking ahead to the year to come.

So, as always--I reached out to Team President Stan Kasten to gauge his interest in speaking with me, again. No problem came the response--just set it up. Due to both our busy schedules--Mr. Kasten and I could not meet in person. So, thanks to his Executive Assistant--a phoner was set up for Tuesday Morning, October 9th. And, wouldn't you know it--at the very last moment--I had to cancel on him--due to a last minute, surprise television interview agreed to--by My Televison Network and a Top Political Player in Washington, DC. But, just one phone call later--all was OK. To Mr. Kasten's great credit--he was flexible and later that day--we conducted our interview--for thirty minutes. As The African Queen would say, politics trumps everything in Washington, DC--even Stan Kasten. He understood and appreciated the humor of it all.

Our discussion was all encompasssing: First--New Nationals Park, Parking and Transportation Issues, Seat Relocation--concerns that have many fans worried. Later we moved on to Baseball Team topics, Ownership, Our Manager, the possible signing of Free Agents--moving ahead on the rebuilding of Our Franchise from the ground up. Today, in part one--its all about New Nationals Park.

So, with the preamble out of the way--here we go:

There has been a lot of talk in The Washington Post and Washington Times about the Parking and Transportation Issues—what's your take on all of it right now? (SBF)

“I really think we are making good progress. As you know, everyone in our Front Office and Ownership has taken a lot of time on this very important issue. We are going to have an update for you at the time Invoices and Seat Locations go out, the first half of November. We are pretty confident we are going to be able to offer parking packages to all our Season Ticket Holders. We are trying to get more (Parking Spaces) in addition to that for daily customers. But, as always, the best alternative is going to be Metro. And, I will always encourage that. Parking at Metro (Stations) will make this (coming to New Nationals Park) more accessible than ever before.”

I think a lot of folks seem pretty settled on the fact that parking might not be abundant right away and Metro might be the best choice for many—but many that are willing to try Metro are concerned about the Navy Yard Expansion being seven weeks behind schedule, because Monument Realty is having an issue with Metro over the sale of their Bus Garage? (SBF)

“Yes, I am aware of that. I don’t know how true all of that is at this point. But, we are continually assured that everything will be done well in time for Opening Day (2008). On this side of the matter (meaning The Team & Ownership), and everyone else from the city, the contractors, EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THE CRITICAL NATURE of Metro up and running fully, for that first game. I really am confident we will get that done. Its TOO IMPORTANT to the project (Opening of New Nationals Park)."

Metro has told me their part of the Expansion is on schedule but Monument’s portion, which controls the entrances/exits to that Metro is behind schedule. (SBF)

“That may well be true, we know that all the people involved regard the successful opening of Metro absolutely CRITICAL to the successful opening of the park. And, because of that—whatever needs to be done will get done and made to happen.”

I know there has been talk about The Shuttle from RFK (to New Nationals Park)—is there any other TARGETED bus service from other points of the city that could take fans directly to the stadium? (SBF)

“There has been many things talked about. I don’t know if we will be certain about what our needs will be on Opening Day. There has been talk about Water Taxis; There has been talk about Circulator Buses. There has been talk about shuttles from other Metro Stops. All of those things are on the drawing boards, I just don’t have the full menu of what will be offered Opening Day for you, yet.”

“Understand, this will evolve over time. Whatever the plan is for Opening Day will change over the course of ’08 and future years. Especially, after people learn their own most comfortable route to get to the ballpark.”

Yes, I have said nothing will be settled until everyone finds what works best for them. (SBF)

“That’s right. That’s good to know. It’s interesting, if you are coming from Maryland, it will never be easier than zipping on the Green Line with plenty of parking along the way at each and every station on the Green Line stops. That’s going to be a great alternative and easier than it was before. But, even the other lines—the Red, Orange and Blue Lines, are going to be OK. Remember, RFK was just five stops from L’Enfant Plaza. So, even all of you on the other lines, who have to transfer at L’Enfant, now you are only two stops to L’Enfant Plaza. Sure, you may have to switch trains if you are on those lines, but it will be quicker and shorter on the Green Line.”

We (Sohna and I) have always transferred at L’Enfant Plaza coming to and from the Yellow Line. My biggest concern is 2000 people standing on the platform at L’Enfant Plaza after a game? (SBF)

“Well, I can tell you this. Metro, starting with John Catoe (Metro General Manager) and going all the way down throughout their organization, everyone is very much intune with the need for them to perform. But also, this is an opportunity for them TO PERFORM. This is BIG BUSINESS for them. And, they have committed the trains they need, to the schedule they need—to move EVERYONE into and out of the park as quickly as possible.”

Is the shuttle from RFK going to be a definite?

“I would say it looks very likely. Its not definite yet, but certainly something we are working hard to make happen.”

Now, I received an email from The Team, asking my preferences on various topics. One of which was The Shuttle from RFK. The Questionaire stated the shuttle would be just a 7 Minute ride to and from. Is that true? (SBF)

“There are a couple of ways actually. I got to tell you the truth. I have driven them myself. That’s correct, seven minutes or quicker. When you really think about it, its a lot like going to an airport and heading to the car rental center. Its very much like that. So, it can be done and we are working for that alternative. Again, maybe—that alternative may not be for everyone—but there are many that might want to avail themselves to this option. Particuarly those who continue to be interested in tailgating. They will be able to set up in their same old spot—if it interests them.”

Yes, its totally an ever evolving process—no doubt about it.(SBF)

“Its absolutely is.”

How about the rumor of The Opening Night, Sunday Game on ESPN? How Likely? (SBF)

“Nothing is official yet, but it is something that is still being discussed. I just can’t talk about it just yet. But, I hope to know very, very soon.”

The Relocation Process—what is the latest? (SBF)

“Its going very smoothly, we are very close to having everyone done. And, we are on track—as we said—to have everyone have their locations and receive their invoices during the first half of November. That looks like what will happen.”

Once that process is completed and sent out to ticket holders, can any changes be made. I am sure people are going to ask? (SBF)

“I am sure there will be people who will inquire into making changes, and we will be talking to all of them. People are going to be very surprised with how good the system worked. I think the vast, vast majority of people will be satisfied with their locations. Particuarly, when they get to the ballpark and see the sightlines and the proximities that every seat has in comparison to a corresponding seat in the old ballpark. I will also say this—Club Seats, those Club Seats are better than an awful lot of seats that were downstairs at RFK. People who are not originally intending the Club Seats (as first choice), they couldn’t get want they wanted—they will very quickly see what I am talking about. I was just walking the Club Level and sitting in those seats last week. So, I think there are going to be questions. And, people are going to see what they can do to move around. I am sure, we will do our best. But, by and large—we are going to satisfy the vast majority of people.”

Looking at the different tentative schedules that have been listed on various team websites, it struck me when The Brewers posted up a 7:35PM Friday Night start at New Nationals Park. Is this a new start time for weeknight games? (SBF)

“We don’t have anything finalized yet, but everyone is suppose to say those things are tentative—because no schedule is final yet. We (The Nationals) have been told to hold off. We have a few more issues than most teams because of the new stadium. Opening Day, Traffic, things like that. So, we still have some issues to iron out. But, literally, in a few days we should have a final schedule—including times. But, it is a new park, new traffic patterns, we are going to be experimenting with times to try to respond to what would be the peak demand along with ease and convenience for fans. But, at this moment, nothing is finalized.”

I have mentioned this 7:35PM possibility to a couple of people, and wrote about it. The Majority responding liked 7:35PM for the weeknights, because it gave them more time to come from work, get use to the new ballpark and maybe enjoy the ballpark more in what it has to offer. (SBF)

“OK, In many respects, ’08 is going to be a learning experience for the team and the customer. We are always going to be looking at what changes we can make to satisfy the greatest number of customers.”

“Now, I must ask—what are YOU doing looking at The Brewers Website looking for their schedule. What’s is that all about!!! (laughing).”

(Laughing back) Actually, I didn’t first see it, a season ticket holder friend emailed me noticing this change. This person is Gung Ho about finding all the away games as soon as possible—so a travel schedule can be set to attend those away games. (SBF)

“This is where Tentative hurts more than helps.”(we may have been talking via phone—but I could tell he was shaking his head in disbelief, chuckling over the thought). “We are only talking, literally, a few more days. You never want to go back and change things, if its not final.”

Well, another thing people are talking about, and possibly up in arms about—is the July 4th Game, tentatively set to be played by The Nationals in Cincinnati—instead of DC? (SBF)

“Well, wait until its final.” (OK—SBF)

If by chance, heaving forbid—something happens to the new stadium and it can’t open on time—will RFK be prepared in case something happens? (SBF)

“RFK will be there just in case. Although, it would take a little bit of time to get it into shape. If an emergency befalls us, we would have another place to play—but right now we are planning on playing at the new ballpark for Opening Day.”

Switching gears to Centerplate (New Nationals Park Concessionaire)—they seem pretty interesting as a company—I have talked with them a couple of times. Why did The Nationals pick Centerplate? (SBF)

“This was a very long process and a combination of many things—involving the entire industry. And, at the end of the day, we felt it possible to move forward with their expertise, their infrastructure through the region already (DC Convention Center, FedEx Field)--that they would be in the best position to give us the kind of experience we are looking for. And, in conjunction with the deal we were able to strike (with Centerplate)—it all combined to put them over the top. I am very happy with the position!! They have had a great attitude so far, and I am looking forward to continuing a good relationship down the line.”

I have talked with Bob Pascal (Vice President of Marketing) from Centerplate a couple of times—my little bit of time with them finds their company being very proactive. (SBF)

“I think they are very customer oriented. They know its important to you. They know its important to me. So, it does not surprise me that they (Centerplate) have been available to our customers already.”

Was it just a package deal why Centerplate also received the Memorabilia/Merchandise sales as well? (SBF) [FMI—not Armark-- had the Memorabilia/Merchandise Sales at RFK for the past three seasons.] (SBF)

“No, we left all options open. We explored splitting it up. But, at the end of the day, we felt we could do better in this case by having all of it being one company. In my career, I have done this a number of ways, so I was wide open as to what was the deal operating at the new ballpark. But, this turned out better for me and our team.”

I know a lot of folks are going to ask this. Will food be allowed from outside the stadium to be brought into New Nationals Park? (SBF)

“I think the policy will be just what it was this past year--as I recall.”

In the past, you can bring in bottled water, your own sandwichs, meals, snacks, food stuffs—just not Large Coolers or things like that. (SBF)

“I think that’s what it was, and I don’t recall off the top of my head, but my recollection is the decision is just what it was last year. That may change between now and opening day, but I don’t remember exactly.”

Many fans want to see a FanFest, like many other teams do every winter—will The Nationals have one between now and Spring Training? (SBF)

“We have not completed our winter plans yet, we are going through budgeting right now. As you know, we are going to have many unique opportunities that we wouldn’t have. All related to milestones happening at the new ballpark. We will have many different events. Whether that’s a FanFest or whether that’s a Caravan like last winter, or some combination—or Both—its all on the drawing board. We haven’t finalized our budget to give you a definite answer—but it certainly is being considered.”

That concludes Part One of My Conversation With Stan Kasten.

Tomorrow in Part Two--we will discuss a few more issues concerning New Nationals Park, then dive into "The Big Picture" as Mr. Kasten calls it--a look at Our Washington Nationals as a Baseball Team.

15 comments:

Jim H said...

SBF...

Great reading. Thanks!

Jim

mike edgar said...

Good stuff, SBF. You always manage to ask the questions that I would want to ask if I had that opportunity. Thanks!

paul said...

Tiger Woods is here during the July 4 week every year now. I think that might explain the team's not wanting to be here. It makes sense, but it's sad; I wish Tiger was here at another time.

If the food policy changes, I'm outta here. I can't afford to regularly spend more on a meal at the stadium than I normally would for a whole day of eating.

Love to see the NY fans bumming. After Randolph's totally uninspiring performance (check out Billy Wagner's comments in a recent New York magazine, http://nymag.com/news/sports/38353/), the Mets now really regret letting Manny Acta go.

Anonymous said...

Stan Kasten knows what he is talking about. The murkiness on the food issue speaks for itself. Get ready for 6 dollar hot dogs.

Tim Bilbro said...

Great stuff, as always. You really should be getting compensated for this.

Anonymous said...

This was the first time I ever heard of RFK being there "just in case." Was it the first time Kasten has ever said anything like that publicly? If so, it makes me nervous...

Anonymous said...

SBF
The two postings (Kasten and the Navy Yard Metro construction) were outstanding. very informative!!
It appears that the Realty company part of the Metro re-construction project is a problem, RFK will probably be used for schuttle buses which I can tolerate and maybe we gat a break on bring in food, etc. until Centerplate get organized.

Screech's Best Friend said...

On RFK--"JUST IN CASE" Mr. Kasten had apparently never been asked this question before--although I felt it important. He is very confident the stadium will open on time--but he did agree--there has to be a fall back plan in a dire emergency. I believe he is not expecting RFK to be used ever again for a Nationals Game.

On the food policy--he was confident it has not changed--in fact Mr. Kasten doesn't seem to have any problem with fans bringing foodstuffs in the park. He was just hedging his bet (might change before opening day) just in case.

I will have a followup on that for clarification.

Anonymous said...

The food issue is one near and dear to Stan's heart. You may not recall, but when Turner Field opened the Braves started a new "No Food" policy. The fan outrage was so strong that 3 months into the season, Kasten revisited the policy and changed it back to the "outside food is welcome" policy from Fulton County. He is WELL aware that this is a big issue.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I hope I do not get lynched for asking this question, but if the Nats plan to be on the road on July 4, does this mean that for once the Orioles will be playing at home that day?

Also, I would love to ask Mr. Lerner when the Nats will be able to have defined territories we are allowed to defend. It continues to gall me that while the Nats are not allowed to have a radio affiliate in Baltimore, the Orioles continue to have THEIR games broadcast on WTEM. The Nationals also would not be allowed to have a minor league affiliate as close to Baltimore as Bowie is to D.C. Montgomery, Prince Georges, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties, along with the City of Alexandria should be part of the Nationals' territory.

(If you do not have time to ask Stan Kasten this tomorrow, SBF, don't worry about this!)

mike edgar said...

I was unaware of the restrictions that you mentioned, Eddie. I would love to know what Stan has to say about those things.

Anonymous said...

Thanks SBF (and Stan, if you're reading this).

I just wanted to add my two cents about the importance of maintaining the food policy and allowing fans to bring in their own food and water. I will be very, very unhappy if that changes, and it almost certainly would affect the number of games I attend.

Anonymous said...

It continues to gall me that while the Nats are not allowed to have a radio affiliate in Baltimore, the Orioles continue to have THEIR games broadcast on WTEM

Is it that the Nats aren't allowed to have a Baltimore radio affiliate, or is it that there's not enough interest for the Nats in Baltimore to justify a station carrying them?

To my knowledge, radio "territory" doesn't match up with TV rights territory in MLB.

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