Friday, October 21, 2005

Concession Depression

Crap, it must be a really slow point in the offseason...I'm about to do a post on the concession situation at Nationals games last year.

Actually, I'm feeding off a nice post from my colleagues at The Nationals Interest about this same topic and others.

The guys at NI point out that there were numerous concession debacles this summer and correctly attribute many of these to the by-the-seat-of-their-pants management of the business side of the team this year. To be fair to the Nats, they were thrust in this situation by the chronic ineptitude of Bud Selig, Bob DuPuy, Peter Angelos, the D.C. Council, and all others who conspired to make the team's move from Montreal as much of a disaster as possible.

But there were a few things that could have been done to improve the concessions that wouldn't have cost the team a nickel. It irked me all summer that no food items were sold by the roving vendors in the stands. At every other ballpark there are vendors in the stands selling hot dogs, but none were to be found at RFK. In fact, the only items sold by the vendors were beer, bottled water, soda and cotton candy. Of those, 75% seemed to be selling beer. The only way to get a hot dog was to miss at least one inning waiting in a huge line for service as bad as your average CVS store. Why couldn't they have sold hot dogs in the stands? By July I'd given up on RFK concessions entirely and started bringing Subway to the game.

Another huge issue was the lack of ATMs in the park. The ATMs faced staggering lines, usually 20+ people deep. Twice I had the misfortune of needing cash at a Nats game and each time it cost me 45 minutes in line. People surely would have bought more concessions if they didn't have to face 45 minutes in the ATM line followed by 20 minutes in the hot dog line. Selling more than just beer and soda in the stands and adding more ATMs would have given concession sales a boost.

The NI also discusses the team's disappointing merchandise sales. I'm not sure what was so disappointing about them. Remember, this was the team's first year in DC. It seemed like nearly everone at the park had at least a Nationals cap to wear, but you really can't expect more than that for a first year team. Die-hard fandom is still several years away for many people. The Nats don't have a star player to drive replica jersey sales and people are only going to spend so much on crappy foam hands and inflatable bats in a given year. And as nice as it was to see the nod to the old Senators uniforms, those curly W hats aren't exactly going to be the hippest piece of street wear any time soon.

The Nationals Interest is right. Better management will help the team fix some of these issues. But marketing will never be top flight until a new ownership group is established and concessions, I'm afraid, will be dismal until Linda Cropp Stadium opens.