Monday, August 25, 2008

Our Conversation With Stan Kasten (The Final Words)


After discussing Our Washington Nationals with Team President Stan Kasten for nearly 35 minutes in his office, Sohna and I turned our attention to off the field questions. New Nationals Park, Fan Experience, Concessions--items for discussion not related directly to the product on the field.

With that, here we go with The Finals Words as Our Conversation With Stan Kasten concludes.

Now, let’s switch to off the field stuff. (SBF)

Other than the re-building process with the new ballpark, what are you looking to improve on? (The African Queen)

“There is always stuff, but as I have said maybe to you guys before, and others before, there is stuff about the ballpark that remains unfinished and needs to be improved. But, I am not going to tell you guys about it. If you haven’t noticed, I am not going to point them out for you. And the same goes with stuff surrounding the team. There are a lot of things we have to work on. There are a lot of things we need to improve and we plan to do it all. But it’s not something I am comfortable talking about publicly. I just want to do it. And the results will always be the final proof we got things done or didn’t get things done.”

The naming rights issue. Is this the last year the ballpark will be called Nationals Park? (The African Queen)

“I can’t tell you that for sure. We continue to have talks. We feel like we are not in a rush. It could be next year, the year after—three years. We really are not in a rush. We want to get it right. As you know, at this ballpark, we feel like getting our sponsors involved in an interactive way—whether it’s the Sony PlayStation Area, or The Miller Scoreboard Walk, or The PNC Diamond Club or The Lexus Presidents Club. We really feel like involving them. Some of our main real estate we have not given away—like the (centerfield) plaza. Or The Home Run Extravaganza that we still have planned. Or the different areas, like The Red Loft, The Red Porch—we still have big stuff out here that we held back—pending the right fit.”

Is there any chance the stadium remains Nationals Park? I like the name. (The African Queen)

“I don’t think there is a chance that it remains named that way permanently.”

“Home Run Extravaganza? What is that? (SBF)

“It’s just a concept, some Whiz!! Bang!! Things, which happens after home runs. It’s just one of 100 things on a drawing board of possibilities we have talked about with different sponsors. Some sponsors want to come to us. They say we would like to do this after a Home Run and attach our name to it. But, it takes many different forms. That’s just one thing on a menu of many possibilities.”

How about the ball that was originally in the designs above the Red Porch? (The African Queen)

“That is real estate which is still available for the right thing. At the end of the day, we thought let’s not put a ball there. We have toyed with a number of iterations of what kind of ball, maybe video—we just don’t know. But, there was an awful lot to get done by Opening Day ’08 and we now have many things we still plan to do for ’09.”

You mentioned to me at one time The Red Loft Bar would be expanded? (SBF)

“We did. We took out one row of seats. The back row of the seats in front, which really opened up the room there. At the same time, we then built the Miller Scoreboard Bar, which is great fun and on a Friday Night especially—which we have themed out. We do have one fun special event planned there for September. We are planning on a Speed Dating Event. (Sohna and I chuckling) Yeah, seriously. We want the park to be fun and we think that is kind of a fun thing in keeping with the character of what fans are experiencing up there. So, we are always going to be trying fun things like that.”

What the latest on the statues? (SBF)

“My understanding is that they will be in for Opening Day 2009. I have not heard anything different.”

There has been this rumor that Centerplate might be sold—possibly to Aramark—can you comment on this? (SBF)

“There is nothing I can tell you because there is nothing I really know. They are a public company and they are in their own discussions. I don’t have any more information on it, but it is a situation I am watching closely, obviously. And I am talking to other teams to see what they are experiencing—other Centerplate Clients. So, we are just watching and preparing for any eventuality.”

I am just concerned about Aramark and their reputation from RFK? (SBF)

“Well, there are many different ways to do it. I don’t know if Aramark gets it or another company gets it—if they are sold at all. I just don’t know. But, we are going to insist that on what we always insist on here. We are going to insist on top quality. Service is another important thing to me—which has improved over the season, although, it is still not where it has to be. We are going to continue to work on that—whoever the concessionaire is.”

The service at The Nats Dogs Stands can be really trying on patience. (SBF)

“Yes, I agree with you on that. It’s been a yearlong challenge. I know it is better. I know it has improved, but not yet where we want it. Food Choices, I think we have more variety here than any park I have ever been to.”

Will the Nats Express continue to operate next year? (The African Queen)

“That is our expectation to use RFK. I think so, nothing is finalized yet, but that’s our hope and our expectation.” (Will it still be free? TAQ) As far as I know—yes. But that has not been finalized yet. We don’t own the land, but that’s how we are thinking.”

Is there more you can do for season ticket holders? Some claim you are not doing enough? (The African Queen)

“I don’t know what their expectations are. We need to keep working on the stadium. We need to keep working on our service. We need to keep working on our product. All of those things are what fans deserve. We will keep trying to do all we can.”

There were some online complaining after the Weekender Plan came out that included a Diamond Club Ticket for the last home game this season. These folks claiming something like this should have been offered to Season Ticket Holders. (SBF)

“There weren’t many. There will always be someone who has a problem with everything we do. I think the plan we have offered is very popular and there have been next to no complaints about it.”

Uniform Changes for next year? (SBF)

“I am not aware of any.”

I understand there are two? Like the Red “DC” Jersey is being replaced by a Curly “W” one and a possible Blue Jersey with some stars and patriotic trim--stuff like that. (SBF)

“Yes, some tweaks. I honestly don’t remember what we decided. I would call them tweaks, I would not call them major changes. I know that you follow this stuff , religiously, (Yes, he does—The African Queen) and would consider this all big and major. I just don’t remember. I would call them tweaks. We are basically still having our basic uniform.”

We’ve noticed there is not a lot of advertising around the park? Are not as many businesses interested in The Nationals? (The African Queen)

“What do you mean not a lot of advertising? In the ballpark? (Yeah—TAQ). With our LED Ring and our major scoreboard and our concourse signs—holy smokes!!—I think most people say we have too much advertising. You think we don’t have enough, BLESS YOU!! Because I am always a fan of getting even more in.

I think what she is referring to are the concrete overhangs of each seating level where the only advertisings are The Lerner owned facilities and the garage drapings that are not filled. (SBF)

“We are trying not to trash the place up with billboards. (I agree with that—TAQ). Interesting, I have never had a fan say we need more billboards (chuckling). I think we are exactly where we need to be the advertising in the park. This year, we have relationships with 125 sponsors covering many different things. Some have signage and some don’t. But, we have had a really, really, healthy year on advertising and sponsorship. Very healthy.”

How is that Red Tent on top of Garage B working out? (The African Queen)

“It’s a group party thing and it’s gotten a lot of use. (It’s a fun place before a game—TAQ). Yes, it’s a fun place and next year, now since we will have it full time—we are going to be able to program it all winter. We were never sure with construction issues and all that—we were never sure what we were going to do there this year. We did not get it until mid-season, but now since we have it and know what we have—know how well it works—it’s going to get a heck of a lot more use next year. And maybe we will use it into the game. This year, with very few exceptions, we have cut it off at the start of each game. This past weekend, we let it go until 2PM (for Sunday’s Game). Its kind of fun seeing the Wrigley (Field) type view of people hanging out and watching the game. We will probably do more of that now.”

“This is a tight footprint, I have told you this before, where the ballpark is. We don’t have a lot of extra space. We struggled and struggled at first where we were going to have the tent. (At the first Ladies Night of 2008 it was outside the First Base Gate at the corner of Potomac & 1st Street, SE). Finally, when we got that space (Garage B) it’s been a huge plus for us and the fans.”

There are a lot of odd unused spaces throughout the ballpark—especially on club level where we have always felt you could put chairs, tables, etc to add to the stadium. (The African Queen)

“These are among the things that are still getting done. We put some drink rails out two weeks ago. The drink rails themselves work fine, but they were put in the wrong place. At least we have model of drink rails that we know will work. So, we are going to put a lot more of them and we hope to have them everywhere. Stand up drink rails behind the seats.”

Like at Citizens Bank Park? They have in Philadelphia these stand up tables that are directly hanging on the backside of the railings for the last row of seats on their concourse. A ledge, if you will, that allows you to stand, eat your food or drink and not miss any of the game. (SBF)

“Yes, that is what I am taking about. We have started to do just that and there is more of that, that needs to happen. We’ve started relocating, finally, more TV’s into the areas that didn’t have them. That’s taken until just this week—in some cases. We’ve been able to reconfigure, check it out next home stand, the portable (concessions) from home plate to the left field foul pole in a more functionable way. These are the types of things you learn as you go along. We have issues with some of them getting power, water by moving some of these stands, but we are getting it done. Now, that’s not something I need to tell you, or anyone, ahead of time—but these are the things we notice all the time. The drink rails, the TV’s, the portables. We are still doing it. We just don’t talk about the need for it.”

When you walk now from 1st base to Centerfield along the main concourse there are these terrific HDTV Screens hanging under the overhang for those sitting in those sections. They stand out. (SBF)

“Yes, and some of those, frankly, are not well located. They need to be in other places. We’ve moved some of them beyond the right field fence. Those sections just got TV’s this week—under the scoreboard. They needed them. But, we have more that are needed in other places.”

I got a MASN question. When Belliard hit that fabulous game winning home run off The Orioles to win the game in the last At-Bat, we were surprised to see after the game, the post game show be The Orioles Post Game Show and The Orioles Broadcasters decrying the loss—all over Nationals Park. We didn’t think that was right. (SBF)

“I think that was just an anomaly. (MASN was sharing broadcasting crews all weekend since they televise both teams). It was just the luck of the draw.”

I know it’s just a business deal that you had no control over. But can you do anything about MASN? (SBF)

“No.”

Will you be able to solve your battle over the rent with The District of Columbia? (SBF)

“Yes, I am confident that is going to be resolved in the very near future. There is nothing I can really say about it other than it’s obviously going to get resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Will there be a Winter Fanfest during this coming off-season? (SBF)

“Yes, it is going to happen, details to come.”

Speaking of money—will ticket prices change next year? (The African Queen)

“Nothing has been set yet.”

With that final answer, Our Conversation With Stan Kasten came to an end. For nearly one hour, Our Team President was generous enough to give Sohna and I some personal time to discuss the many topics on our mind, concerning Our Washington Nationals. It is important to note that Mr. Kasten is willing to speak with us, as fans, about our concerns and questions. He fully understands Fans may well have different concerns and desires. Issues, The Main Stream Media sometimes has little interest in. Thankfully, Mr. Kasten is willing to explore diverse options.

That's always a good thing--for Fans of Our Washington Nationals. Mr. Kasten is willing to talk.

19 comments:

SenatorNat said...

This is a wonderful three-part series. No question that Stan has been astute enough to cultivate a venue which you have provided for free which is really rather professional for a blog. The iconic ball ("real estate available") concept is in play, apparently, as a video display, pending sponsorship I am inferring...Would Mitsubishi for example be the type of sponsor that could demonstrate its technology? Could be very cool if done right I would think...

Glad to hear that the rental dispute is well on its way to resolution - hope that is the case since it has not helped the political cause, only fueling the rhetoric of those in D.C. who opposed the team and its park from the beginning while badging the owners as not being entirely civic-minded. Again, 28,000 item punch list and fact that stadium was delivered on budget and on time in D.C.(!!) aside, it would be good for D.C. and the Lerners to be on the same team prospectively.

And, on the business of improving the attitude of those who serve the food - that seems to work better at the stands where there is brand-name ownership. Perhaps more brand-name concessions is key then to continuous improvement.

Naming rights - they are clearly waiting for the current mortgage crunch to work its way through the economic system and a restoration of some financial liquidity for these kinds of endeavors. Would be a real boost if the team was competitive, it would seem, which augers for spending $$$ on payroll to get a long-time revenue stream in return from significant naming rights...

Trust in the candor. All understood.

An Briosca Mor said...

Interesting that Stan is willing to admit that some of the fan experience improvements he has put in place are not in the right place and ought to be changed. I wonder if he'd consider doing the same with some things about Nationals Park that on a visit last week to OPACY I found myself happily not missing. To wit:

1. At OPACY, there is no Clint or anything resembling a Clint.

2. At OPACY, the out-of-town scoreboard was not taken over between innings by flashing ads, allowing the true baseball fans there to watch the game on the field and check the out-of-town scores between innings, which is when they should be checked.

3. At OPACY, there are no condescending scoreboard flashing signs telling fans what to do ("Make Some Noise", "Clap Your Hands", etc) but instead a three-step flashing Let's-Go-O's on the scoreboard that allowed fans to jump right in on the cheers, which they did. (Corollary: Even though there was no need for it when I was there, there was also no Clint popping up on the big screen in the ninth inning, pointing his finger at the camera and screaming about it being rally time.)

4. At OPACY, they don't have fireworks blasting off at all kinds of inopportune moments, like when a crappy team is leaving the dugout to take the field. I also didn't have anyone telling me what was going to happen RIGHT NOW! when I had already figured out it was going to be a ballgame.

These things when they happen at Nationals Park are annoyances that detract from my enjoyment of the game. (Although I'm kidding a little bit about the Right Now guy.) They could all be eliminated with no adverse effect on any of Stan's other initiatives that seem designed to turn the ball park into a giant sports bar surrounding the field of play. Really, I'd be okay with all of this "entertainment" stuff if they'd just keep it to the concourses and plazas so as to not distract the fans in the stands who are trying to watch the game. Why can't they do that? Think of all the goodwill that would engender among season ticket holders and the true fanbase.

Andrew said...

SBF/AQ - I wasn't expecting Part III.

I loved the MASN response--NO.

SBF, you and I have discussed the season ticket concerns including problems within our own seating areas. I have waited the whole season for some unfinished repairs that (the DC Government/Nats ???) hasn't been fixed and I brought it up to my ticket liason last week. Do you think I take my concerns to Stan?

Also, I am intrigued by the Home Run Extravaganza. I like that Liberty Bell in Philly so maybe the Curly W attached to the scoreboard will light up and the W can spin around. lol Now we just need to get a HR hitter other than Willie "Mays" Harris.

Anonymous said...

SBF:

Wish you'd have asked Stan why the party tent was placed atop Lot B, where it partially blocks the view of the Capitol, rather than Lot C (the parking deck on the other side of the center field gate), where it wouldn't.

An Briosca Mor said...

Wish you'd have asked Stan why the party tent was placed atop Lot B, where it partially blocks the view of the Capitol, rather than Lot C (the parking deck on the other side of the center field gate), where it wouldn't.

I'm surprised you can't figure this out yourself. If the tent was on top of the other garage, those inside it would not be able to see the field. They'd have a grand view of the back of the scoreboard. (OF course, that would leave them constantly viewing Zim's walk-off celebration, so I suppose there is that.) Then when senatornat's giant iconic baseball gets installed next year, that will further block the view of the field from the top of Lot C. Meanwhile, the view of the Capitol from inside the stadium will continue to erode as the neighborhood around the stadium continues its build out.

You know, there are other places you can go in the city to view the Capitol dome, and most of them you don't even have to pay to get into. But there's only one place you can go to watch major league baseball. That in fact is the whole point of Nationals Park.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for asking the question about tables and chairs. We always purchase and consume our food before the game so as not to miss any action, and there are very few possibilities for standing and consuming food and drink near the various concessions.

An Briosca Mor said...

We put some drink rails out two weeks ago. The drink rails themselves work fine, but they were put in the wrong place.

Anyone know where these are? I'd go there to stand and eat before the game, wrong place or not.

SenatorNat said...

As to the promotional notion of a Home Run Extravaganza: can you imagine how underutilized this portends to be with the Nationals? How about a "Bunt for a Basehit by Fungible Latino-Surnamed Middle-infielder Extravaganza?" All in jest.

Trust in John Ringling. All Casa Nationals'...

Kevin said...

Is there more you can do for season ticket holders? Some claim you are not doing enough? (The African Queen)

“I don’t know what their expectations are.


Maybe a Season Ticket Holder event? I have a coupon in my ticket booklet for just such an event, but the season's almost over and I haven't heard anything about one. It seems to me that Kasten concentrates much more on people whose money he doesn't yet have over those that announced their commitment in advance by buying a season ticket plan.

Chin Music said...

"Maybe a Season Ticket Holder event? I have a coupon in my ticket booklet for just such an event, but the season's almost over and I haven't heard anything about one. It seems to me that Kasten concentrates much more on people whose money he doesn't yet have over those that announced their commitment in advance by buying a season ticket plan."

I read on another message board that the season ticket holder event is going to be on Saturday September 20. I don't know what the details are, but I'm sure we'll hear something soon.

anonymous2 said...

There are quite enough ads and sponsors, thank you.

And they had better sell the naming rights to a locally-HQ'ed company or a defense contractor. If it's someone stupid like Coca-Cola or UPS or Sony, I will not be pleased.

An Briosca Mor said...

Exxon Mobil is a locally HQed company. How would you like that one? Or were you thinking something more like Five Guys?

Personally, my two favorites for stadium name would be:

(a) Nationals Park, All Others Take Metro (may not apply so much any more since the predicted parking issues never materialized)

or

(b) the DC Council puts its money where its mouth is, and names it Taxation Without Representation Field.

But how about in senatornat's honor, [Your Iconic Baseball Here] Stadium?

Chris Needham said...

I, for one, cannot CANNOT wait for Uncle Stan's Happy Fun Tyme Good-Vibe Jamboree Home Run Extravaganza!11!

(brought to you by Enzyte)

An Briosca Mor said...

I, for one, cannot CANNOT wait for Uncle Stan's Happy Fun Tyme Good-Vibe Jamboree Home Run Extravaganza!11!

I dunno. I think it might be a good idea to get a few actual home run hitters before deploying the Home Run Extravaganza. But maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

ABM-

I disagree. The Teddy gag has worked so well without him EVER winning. Management has learned that fans LOVE waiting for something to happen that never will.

The Geico Home Run Extravaganza will be a big hit, and fans will buy up 20 game plans just HOPING that they get to see it once or twice!

paul said...

I sense a time horizon for the Nats' progress rather than a timetable. The more we approach, the closer we get, but we don't get there. . . .

Seriously I REALLY appreciate your efforts, SBF. Apparently Stan is thinking like a fan when he isn't trying to bring in as many ad dollars as possible.

It must be noted that the between-inning experience is often execrable. Clint is annoying, the contests are mostly annoying, the sound is too loud (depending on where you sit), and, as has been noted, you can't see the out of town scores. How about some nice music every now and then, like the batting practice atmosphere?

The ushers, on the other hand, have been OUTSTANDING. Either they have had great training or have aced a psych profile.

Anonymous said...

"Exxon Mobil is a locally HQed company." It's HQ is Irving, Texas. Mobil was HQed in Faifax for a few years, but that went away when the merger was completed, benefiting all of mankind (particularly those eager to pay $4 per gallon).

6th and D said...

Sad to hear that they won't change the uniform. The home whites that use a font across the chest that doesn't match the curly W. For most of the Washington Baseball Club's history, starting in 1901, the team sported a lone W on the home jersey. In 1938 and then 1941 the lone W moved to the left breast. It stayed there until 1959 when the scripted Senators scrawled across the front. The current home jersey (WHILE I AM GRATEFUL TO HAVE A TEAM WITH A HOME JERSEY) is ugly, doesn't match, doesn't have historic relevence. Gimme just a lone W please! For anyone interested in the history of the Washington Nationals/Senators/Nationals uniform history, visit the Baseball Hall of Fame web site and look for Dressed to the Nines baseball uniform database!

Los Doce Ocho said...

I, for one, cannot CANNOT wait for Uncle Stan's Happy Fun Tyme Good-Vibe Jamboree Home Run Extravaganza!11!

(brought to you by Enzyte)

If only the Park was entirely sponsored by Arrested Development...The Never Nude Centerfield Plaza...The Motherboy Fan of the Game...Uncle Jack's Home Run Derby...Celebrity Softball sponsored by Sitwell Corporation.

So many possibilities.