Friday, May 11, 2007

Updating With The President, Part Two

There is a tremendous amount of effort taking place behind the scenes with Our Washington Nationals. For Season Ticket Holders, nothing more important than The Relocation Process for The New Nationals Ballpark. There could not be a day that goes by where not a single ticket holder has not worried about the upcoming juggling match. Everyone is concerned. Everyone wants to be accomodated. Make no mistake about it, getting every single Season Ticket Holder situated in their new surroundings, happily, is a huge chore.

But, what alot of folks may not realize is that The Seat Choices beginning in 2008 are far greater than those currently offered at RFK Stadium. On South Capitol Street there are 4300 "Premium Seats". As I concluded my conversation Updating with Team President Stan Kasten, its all about The Fan Experience.

What exactly are these Special Seats in the new stadium?

“Premium Seats in the new stadium are what you might call The Expensive Seats (We both start laughing). In other words, there will be three levels. There is the new area called "The Presidents Seats" in front of what is now The Diamond Club (at RFK). In addition to that, we have a Club Level which is attached to The Stars & Stripes Club.”

“This will be all explained to you very soon. I will be reviewing the final draft of The Relocation Guide by next Tuesday (May 15th) So, this will ALL BE LAID OUT. We are taking GREAT PAINS to make sure that Guide is AS INFORMATIVE AS POSSIBLE. Understanding that every single person is still going to have questions, even though we have FAQ’s (frequently asked questions), diagrams and prices. So, anyway, this is the design (of the stadium), none of which anyone within Our Franchise had anything to do with. This is what we got. And, in many respects its quite wonderful. And, in other respects we might have changed something. Nevertheless it is what it is.”

“This is the new Presidents Area. These are 500 seats directly behind Home Plate, between the Dugouts. These will be The Most Expensive Seats in the house. Right behind those seats will be a Private Club. A really upscale Private Club. These tickets will have a full dinner included with the price of the tickets. Behind them is The Diamond Club (1300 Seats) and these seats will have access to another Club situated right on the Concourse. These are Premium Seats. In addition, there is this level of Club Seats (2500 Seats Second Tier, running between the bases). And, because the configuration is so different, the pushing and pulling will occur to get everyone happy with their seats (as compared to RFK).”

“You for instance (SBF) are in the 300’s. We don’t have a 300 section or a 200 section anymore (I guess there goes 'Nats320' as a Blog Title). There are no cross aisles (like at RFK—so fans will not be constantly walking to and fro in front of other fans trying to watch the game.) downstairs. So, it’s a matter of everyone getting their questionnaire with all your preferences. We will do the very best we can for the things that are important to you. We are going to do that, one person at a time. It’s a difficult--time consuming process, but that’s what we are committed to spending this summer doing. And, that’s why we have taken such pains to make sure when we put the relocation guide in your hands, it is as informative and as complete as possible.”

How soon is that going to begin?

“Very soon. Very soon. And, the reason its taken longer than I wanted was after what I observed. This was my first Opening Day (here in DC), in the Ticket Mailing Process, throughout that. So, there were a lot of things, quite frankly, I wanted changed for the future. And, that’s why we have taken such extra pains to MAKE SURE THIS PART OF THE PROCESS is as well thought out in advance as we can possibly make it. Has it taken longer than I wanted, YES. But, that’s OK, there is no rush on this end (The Nationals). It’s all about getting it right. I have gone up and beyond to make sure we anticipate as many problems as possible, beforehand.”

Do you really think it will be that big of a problem relocating everyone?

“Knowing customers, as I do, everyone has the need to feel like they have been taken care of in the best possible way—individually. Its not so much a problem, its time consuming—that’s all. Everyone wants to be heard. Knowing you (SBF) as I do, the book is going to come out, well thought out, very informative, but you are still going to have questions. Questions we just didn’t think of, as we just didn’t think was AS IMPORTANT (We are both laughing while I shake my head yes) AS YOU THINK IT IS. Am I wrong, you are going to have questions? (Yes, SBF is in agreement).”

“You are going to have questions (pointing right at me, my response: ‘Absolutely’, both of us laughing again). So that’s what I mean. So multiply that by 20,000 customers we have (Full Season & Partial Plans) That’s a lot of phones calls. We have a staff gearing up and doing training to be as helpful as they can. It will take the rest of the summer to complete."

“So there are 500 of these (Presidents), 1300 of these (Club) and 2500 in the Club Level (The Club Level Seats are in front of the Suites, but not connected to them. The Suites makeup an additional 1,112 seats). And, the 500 Presidents Seats have access to the Underground Batting Tunnel (set just outside The Nationals Locker Room on the first base side of the New Park). The Presidents Area Private Club will have an OVAL OFFICE Dining Room. It’s just called that.”

I take it you just don’t think you will have any problem selling any of these premium seats?

“No. No way. In fact, our Suite Sales have been sensationally strong. I am very very pleased about that. Much better than anyone might have predicted. This is going to be great”

Is there any serious talk of a naming sponsor for the Stadium?

Coyly, Mr. Kasten responded: “YEEEES.” (Is it going to be GEICO as so many have rumored?—SBF) Smiling back at me, lips pursed—“I will be happy to inform the world as soon as that decision is made.” (Both of us laughing)

(But it’s a good sponsor, I take it? SBF) “Well, we are not done yet. I don’t know if it’s close to being done. But, you asked me if there were discussions (with many companies). And, the answer to that is yes.”

Is it safe to say The New Stadium WILL NOT be called “The Old Navy Yard” (My personal favorite)? “Nothing is safe. Nothing is safe, you know that. I am offering NO GUIDANCE on the answer to that question.” (Some good chuckles going back and forth).

Parking at the new stadium. What is the latest?

“It is moving along. It’s a much more complicated issue. One, which I can’t explain on one piece of paper. But, it involves the assembling of many different parcels of land. It involves active, ACTIVE, program of signage, Metro coordination, police coordination. All of that is going on. I can tell you Ted Lerner is PERSONALLY leading the charge on that program. I mean EVERY DAY. He has taken that as his own personal mission. As have the other three members of our board—Bob (Tanenbaum), Mark (Lerner) and Ed (Cohen). They are all involved with this in a very, very, personal way. It (The Parking Situation) will be worked out in wonderful fashion by Opening Day (2008) but it remains a work in progress that takes their time every single day.”

Is there a goal to get “X” number of spaces?

“Yes, there is, but it’s a moving target. We do know that it depends on what kind of usage is coming out of Metro. Which, by the way, should be the preferred method for everyone because it’s going to be so much more convenient. As you know, the Metro Stop at the New Ballpark will be half the distance than RFK’s (Less than a half block, I have already walked it—Less than 3 minutes to reach the gate once exiting Navy Yard Station on Half Street, SE—SBF) current Metro stop. If you are in Maryland, my goodness, the best thing to do is park at The Greenbelt Station and zip right into the ballpark. It’s a straight shot, it couldn’t be easier.”

“So, we have to give some education (to fans about Metro), and we have to get construction done, the doubling in size of The Navy Yard Metro Station, which is ongoing right now. We need to make sure The (Douglas) Bridge comes down to street grade of South Capitol Street. That will happen this summer (The Douglas Bridge will close for two months while its lowered). So, stuff is going on. A lot of stuff is going on, on many, many fronts. We will, for sure, be offering Parking at RFK Stadium with a short shuttle ride as overflow requires.”

Will the RFK Parking and Shuttle be a charged fee?

“I don’t know that yet. It will certainly be different from parking next to the new ballpark. Those people who take advantage of this will feel like they are taking a Van from The Airport to a Rental Car Facility. Or, like at Disney--park your car at Disney and get on a shuttle to the front door. It will be something like that.”

Does it concern you about the traffic on South Capitol Street (the main street running alongside the new stadium)?

“The traffic everywhere concerns us. South Capitol Street will not be the main artery. “M” Street and all the other arteries that flow through and around the ballpark will be much for useful for getting to the park. We have hired numerous consultants and professionals to work on this situation. And, we have now for nearly one year been working on it. Ted (Lerner) has been personally working on it. Things are falling into place.”

There is no doubt that Our Washington Nationals have emphasized the future during their 2007 campaign. Yet, many fans have asked about an improved Fan Experience for this final season at RFK Stadium--some things promised, some things desired--almost anything to help alleviate some of the frustration from the field of play. Over this past winter there was constant talk about player & coach involvement with the community. And how, during each and every home game, a few players would sign autographs for fans before games. I have yet to notice that. So, I asked Mr. Kasten.

“No, no we’ve been having them (autograph sessions) every home game. I think its 5:30PM to 5:45 PM. Its has started, we just have to keep tweaking it and do more at different times. All of these things will be easier next season because all we have to do is swing the games open. Then, we can also have everyone come in for BP (Batting Practice), which is what we all really want.”

Will Batting Practice for Fans to watch happen at all at RFK this season?

“At RFK Stadium not likely, because physically it’s not well laid out, to accommodate that kind of thing. The New Ballpark is, much like Turner Field is in Atlanta. We need to be able to open (the gates) without the ushers being there. That’s the problem. We don’t wish to bring Ushers in One Hour early, it doesn’t help anyone. It works at Turner Field. If we can just have that Plaza Area Open so everyone can watch BP without having to open the Full Stadium, it would work here, as well. RFK can’t really accommodate that.”

So, is there anything you CAN DO at RFK this final season?

“Yeah, for instance, we can do (BP) occasionally, but we simply can’t do this every night. So, yes we can do special things like that. Everything here is a work in progress, continually being evaluated and re-evaluated.”

How about the talk last off-season concerning rewards for Season Ticket Holders?

"This package will be sent out the week or next week. This is a final mockup before it goes to press. It includes all the benefits, an extra game coupon that was promised. This is the reminder. So, yes included will be complete details of exchange nights, replay program (sell your unused seats to future games) , bonus tickets and stuff like that. It’s all happening." (Also included for Full Season Ticket Holders only-will be a complimentary 2007 Washington Nationals Yearbook-SBF).

During each of the first two seasons, there were these monthly get togethers with Charlie Slowes (Nats Radio Broadcaster) and a selected player at The ESPN ZONE in Downtown Washington. The two would be there for one hour on a selected Wednesday, answer questions and sign autographs. Can fans expect to see something like that this season?

“The First ESPN Zone get together is set for May 30th with Our Manager (Manny Acta). Others are tentatively scheduled for June 20th, July 19th, August 16th and September 20th. Participants for the remaining four dates to be determined. We will usually publicize the event a few days in advance."

But, there are far fewer promotions than the past two seasons?

"That has to do with Sponsorships and reviewing a lot of different things. Decisions were made about what TO DO and WHAT NOT TO DO. We will judge at the end of the year whether it was a good decision or bad decision. But, I do know we want to be as aggressive as possible. I think we added some real QUALITY Items. For instance, the Bobbleheads you shall see (4 of them, The Racing Presidents), are the best looking Bobbleheads I have ever seen. Again, that’s something we shall be evaluating. One more thing, we are trying to figure out the best mix.”

Hard Times Café, a very popular vendor last season, is not back this season in the Food Court?

“That is a business decision by them (HTC)”, replied Mr. Kasten.

(SBF) As popular as they were, if they wanted to come back, would they be able to outside of the Food Contract Concessionaire (Aramak currently has the food contract for RFK, all other local vendors--like Red, Hot & Blue, must subcontract through Aramark)?

“Nothing outside of the food contract (will be allowed). But, we are getting very close to a decision on a concessionaire. Any vendor would have to work within the Food Contract. Your point and many other issues are contemplated among all the finalists. We want to have availability of local brands. Its an import concept to us.”

The song "Bustin Loose", highly played and enjoyed over the past two seasons, is now being used as a filler song between the end of the Capitol Shuffle and the beginning of the next half inning. "Bustin Loose" is an original DC song. Any chance to bring it back in a more featured way?

“Bustin Loose has been, somewhat, de-emphasized. It was an artistic judgment.”

At this point we got off on the side talking about the TV Contract, The MASN deal that is so well known and debated about throughout the Baltimore Washington Market. Nothing new to report, but during the conversation, Mr. Kasten asked me what I thought of Don Sutton, MASN’s new Nationals Color Commentator on all games. Personally, I love Don Sutton, he explains the game so well and I told him so. Mr. Kasten had a similar opinion: “I do too. He (Sutton) brings a different element to the broadcast. A professional broadcaster helping fans, helping me, understand things that are going on down there on the field. I have always felt that way about Don. He’s been a great addition.”

When I told Mr. Kasten that for the first two years of Nats Broadcasts on TV, I would always turn the TV Sound down and tune in Charlie Slowes and first, Dave Shea, and now Dave Jageler, he responded: “Not good. In our business that is not a thing.” "Yeah," I mentioned (SBF), “Sutton is fascinating he changed me.” Mr. Kasten replied: “That good, and that’s exactly right. He is good.”

Mr. Kasten and I then talked about "Clint" the new NatsTV Host that appears between innings for the various Fan Involvement Contests. I mentioned that "Clint" is hard to understand, and talks too fast at times. Many others have mentioned this to me. And, if possible, could all questions be put on the Big Scoreboard in rightfield. If fans can't understand everything he's saying, many don't pay attention. Right off hand, he did not have a direct answer, but he was kind enough to get back in touch saying: " They (In Game Entertainment Staff) have been talking to Clint about slowing down because of the poor quality of the PA system (at RFK) . But, they claim the questions HAVE been shown on the board."

Finally--The African Queen specifically asked for Mr. Kasten to find out if there might be some more HIGH END Clothing available to women, such as Blazers, Polos, Jewelry--items ladies can wear to work appropriately and then leave directly for a game. "Now that's a market I would love to reach!" Mr. Kasten stated (smiling happily), as well as a Curly W Tote Bag.

He had to check with The Team Store Manager for the details, but told me later--The Blazer is not an item currently made, nor are they aware of Tote Bags. High End Polo Shirts are definitely available, and nice jewelry is sold through a special team catalogue that can be seen at the store, or by checking online.

Mr. Kasten finished the update by stating: "(The Store Manager) also reminded me, that next year, we will have 4-5 times the
merchandise space that we have this year. RFK...1800 sq ft store. Next year...main store 5000 sq ft; behind the plate 1500 sq ft, plus two smaller stores on the Club level."

So, that concludes my Update With The Team President. As always, I appreciated his willingess to sit down with me to provide as much fan information as possible. I find it essential to stay informed, and necessary to pass along as much news as I can accumulate. The Relocation Process is, most likely, the most significant event that will happen surrounding Our Washington Nationals for 2007. Hopefully, some of this provided updated material is helpful to you, too. Its important that Mr. Kasten is willing to discuss various topics surrounding Our Team with fans. As Our Washington Nationals grow, its nice to know his door is, quite frankly, open and ready for business.


JayB said...

At some point the shine has to run out on Stan's free pass you have given him on the basics of the fan experience promise. I hope you will hold him accountable for the season ticket relocation process that is coming “very soon”. (I am sure your tickets will turn out fine (wink, wink), but how about the rest of us?)

Stan is on record now as personally approving the plan, after personally delaying it many weeks, after personally taking 10 months to review it (you get my point).......I hope you will not give him another pass if it turns out to be another mess, like cold hot dogs, poor marketing plans, lame in game entertainment and late season ticket mailings.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kasten would make an excellent used car salesman if The Plan doesn't work.

It's all double-talk, carefully worded so he's able to backtrack later.

Anonymous said...

How about this for a revenue-laden name?

"GEICO Nationals Park at OLD NAVY Yard"

Anonymous said...

I love the new stadium design. The most advertised things are the expensive suites, but it is designed very well. I like the resuraunt in the outfield, and I love the way they made the concession stands FACING the field. At RFK, if you are getting food during the game, you can't see what is going on. Now, you can look down on the field from anywhere, not just in the tunnels.

Go Nats!