Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mark Lerner On The Fan Experience & Team Direction

Recently, Nats320 asked Principal Owner Mark Lerner about the fan experience at Nationals Park and the direction of Our Washington Nationals. Here are those questions and answers:

1. For five years, Stan Kasten was the face of the Washington Nationals franchise, involved in most every aspect of the team’s development. Do you feel his dedication is replaceable? And will the Nationals have a team president in the near future?

Mark Lerner: We were very fortunate Stan agreed to dedicate the last five years to helping us set a long-term course, on and off the field, for the brand new Washington Nationals franchise. His contributions were immeasurable. In addition to the philosophy he and ownership adopted to build the Nationals into a contender, Stan helped us put into place a management team that would continue to drive that philosophy after he left. One of our first hires was Mike Rizzo. Mike put his third generation experience as a baseball scout and administrator to work immediately, developing a completely depleted minor league system into one of the best in baseball, rebuilding our development program in the Dominican Republic and leading our efforts to draft or sign some of the best young talent in the game. While Stan was still serving as president we also hired Andrew Feffer to oversee the business side of the Nationals, directing our marketing, in-game experience, community planning and every non-baseball related aspect of the franchise. Mike and Andy had the benefit of learning and operating under Stan’s philosophy and they have both proven to equal his enthusiasm for our tasks ahead. We realize that Stan Kasten is irreplaceable, but we certainly have a team in place that can more than effectively lead us toward the goals he helped us establish and set in motion five years ago.

2. Following up on that, Mr. Kasten was consistently seen walking around Nationals Park talking with fans and was known for replying directly to their emails. Will someone inside the team continue that one-on-one relationship with fans?

Mark Lerner: Both Stan and I spent much of every game wandering around Nationals Park visiting with fans and getting their feedback on the game experience and what they think we can do better. That is invaluable to the Nationals and to the two of us. I certainly intend to continue that practice and Andy will likely be doing more of that too.

3. Stan Kasten has also been the buffer between Baseball Management and Ownership. Will Mike Rizzo report directly to you? How will those baseball business/personnel decisions be made? Has Mike been well groomed for the job?

Mark Lerner: With three generations of baseball lineage and over thirty years of personal experience, I can think of no general manager that came to the job better equipped to make the kinds of major league decisions that are required of franchises these days than Mike Rizzo. For the last couple of years, Mike has been driving the Nationals baseball philosophy and making most of the baseball-related decisions. He reports directly to the ownership group for final sign-off. I think both he and ownership would agree this has worked very well.

4. Is it time to spend money on the free agent market for players? Do you feel the team is closer to competing?

Mark Lerner: Our philosophy on free agents has remained the same. We need to spend on our long-term needs, not just our short-term wants. Nobody’s more impatient to win than me, but we are close to building in a way that can make us a contender without wasting the talent we have. The question was not whether we would spend for free agents, but rather when and for whom. Our recent signing of All-Star rightfielder Jayson Werth signals a beginning of what could be called phase two of the Nationals’ process. Phase one was a focus on scouting and player development and rebuilding the farm system, and now we’re ready for the key pieces that will help us compete for division titles and championships. We expect Werth will be a centerpiece of our ballclub on the field and in the clubhouse.

5. For the second year in a row, the Nationals have lowered some ticket prices and offered more incentives to get season ticket holders to renew and to get more fans into the ballpark on game days. Is the team doing enough to re-energize baseball in D.C. in the wake of four consecutive losing seasons and the unfortunate loss of Stephen Strasburg for 12 to 18 months?

Mark Lerner: We have three main commitments to our fans: put a quality team on the field, create the number one fan experience in sports and serve our community. We are proud of the fact that we’re making strides in all three of these areas and are thrilled that we are able to once again offer quality, affordable entertainment for our fans to enjoy in the 2011 season.

Many fans got to experience the long-anticipated debut of Stephen Strasburg, which was one of the most exciting nights in baseball history, then the signing of Bryce Harper, and most recently the signing of Jayson Werth, all which have packed an exciting punch to the Washington baseball scene. Our fans are telling us they're excited about the team we’ll be fielding on Opening Day and they expect the buzz to continue to grow all season long. I believe, and I think our fans do too, that we are truly on the brink of something special and that the team’s plan for long-term success is beginning to show dividends. With those three priorities firmly in place, you can feel the heartbeat of baseball beating in the nation’s capitol.

6. Following up on that, could the team do more for their fans—as far as appreciating their support?

Mark Lerner: There is no question that the fan experience here at Nationals Park is very important to us. We strongly believe in the importance of listening to our fans and embracing their suggestions for the good of the club. That is why we’ve conducted numerous fan focus groups this off season and will continue to do so moving forward. With the help of this research, we were pleased to discover that we are not far off from providing our fans the kind of experience they expect and deserve, but we believe that there is always room for improvement and willingly accept those challenges.

As you’ll see by some of the changes taking place this off-season and our new ticket options, we have responded to our fans and continue to find ways to ensure that all our fans get a chance to enjoy games at Nationals Park all season long. In addition to lowering or maintaining the same price structure from 2010 for all tickets, we have also added considerable value to the Home Plate Box section, the PNC Diamond Club and the Lexus Presidents Club by making those three areas all-inclusive with complimentary food, beer, wine and soda, complimentary parking and increased team store discounts. We’ve also introduced the “Buy 2, Get 2” promotion, by which fans who purchase two season tickets in select areas receive an additional two season tickets for free, and the Holiday Three Pack promotion, which only costs $30 for three games (Opening Day, a Battle of the Beltways game and the Fourth of July) and includes an exclusive Nationals collectable ornament. In addition to these new promotions we will continue to offer 400 $5 tickets when gates open for each game and family fun packs that allow the most discerning consumers an opportunity to take in a game at Nationals Park and enjoy a day with their families.

7. And finally, we know you are always hopeful. Do you honestly feel the Nationals are close to turning the corner and becoming not just a winner, but also a consistent one—year after year? If so, why?

Mark Lerner: I couldn’t be more excited about the Nationals prospects. Mike believes we’ll see break-out seasons from two or three of our current roster players, that we will pick up a couple of free agents in the off-season that will help us immediately and that 2011 may represent the most exciting and meaningful season in our young history. We believe this season will be the one that all our fans will remember as the one where the spark began; the one where all the pieces started falling into place. I’m enjoying Ryan Zimmerman’s continued development as an MLB superstar, and fully expect big seasons from Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Drew Storen and others. Headline grabbing signings of Number One draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper mean that we’ve got two of the best emerging arms in the sport, coupled with the exciting signing of Jayson Werth at the Winter Meetings last week means that we’ll be competing at a higher level than ever before.


Unknown said...

Have you heard anything about Nats Fest happening or not happening in 2011? That was a great "fan" event so I would be shocked if the team discontinued the event.

Screech's Best Friend said...

William: The dates haven't been announced but there will be a Nats Fest again in early 2011, sometime around the last week of January. Additionally, we've been told Strasburg is committed to attending the events.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the information. I feel like in past years the team has at least sent out an email by this time saying that NatsFest will take place, so that's why I was worried.