Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nickles, Dimes and Scalpers

Barry Svrluga reports today that the Nats are working on a short-term contract extension for GM Jim Bowden. This is a good thing, as I've discussed ad nauseum. Without Bowden the team will scramble to find a third-rate caretaker GM while Carrasco, Loaiza and other and potential free agents sign elsewhere. Capitol Punishment, Nationals Interest, District of Baseball and Nats Triple Play all cover the Bowden story at length. I'll let my final word on the subject be this: no other GM that we could possibly sign this offseason before the free agency period will have the team's interests at heart the way Bowden does. I'd rather have a tenacious GM making questionable moves than a lame-duck caretaker whose only mission is to slash costs for the new owners. 'Nuff said.

There are two other very interesting aspects of the Svrluga article that have not been covered in the Natosphere. Club President Tony Tavares is hatching an evil plot to charge us more for popular games:

"Tavares, who is also unsure of his future, has begun thinking of different ways to structure ticket prices, including making more desirable games, such as weekend dates against teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees, more expensive, but offering discounts for games that would traditionally draw smaller crowds, such as Monday and Tuesday nights against lackluster opponents."

Good idea, Tony. Let's make sure we have sellout crowds in gigantic RFK by making it more cost prohibitive for people to attend the games they care about. These are exactly the kinds of moves that alienate fans. A Major League Baseball game is the last bastion of semi-affordable public entertainment left. Where else can you get three hours of professional entertainment for $10? Last time I checked they weren't making any more installments of The Lord of the Rings. Presumably the Baltimore games will be sellouts, so the team will already be making more money. The Yankee games might not sell out but we can assume the house will be packed.

Instead of punishing loyal fans who come to the games, Tavares should focus on creating more loyal fans by spending more money on marketing the team. Of course, the biggest boost would be a real TV deal for the team, but that's out of Tony's control. The team could make significant strides by advertising on the Metro, advertising in Express or Examiner and increasing the amount of promotional activity in the D.C. area. A better, stronger radio station would be helpful as well. I'm sure someone with the business acumen of Tavares can come up with even more effective solutions.

Tavares is also "knocking around" a plan to curtail the dreaded scalpers:

"The club is trying to figure out how to combat ticket scalping, which he considered to be a major problem during the Nationals' first season in town. He said the club may offer a service in which season ticket holders who know they won't be able to use a set of seats on a given night could offer the tickets back to the club and pay a processing fee. The club would then be able to offer some of those prime seats back to the public, perhaps taking scalpers out of the equation."

That's a great idea. Let's cozy up to season ticket owners by offering them a bogus shell game of a deal. Tavares's "plan" will fail because the scalpers still offer a greater incentive for those with unused tickets. If I'm a season ticketholder I can either take a loss on my unused tickets or sell them for face value to a scalper, eBay, Craig's List or the guy down the hall in the office.

This plan is a sham mostly because Nats season tickets are a sham. The club offers no financial incentive to purchase season tickets. If I buy a 20 game package I must pay face value for all of those tickets. Unless a ticketholder is determined to sit in a premium section, there is no point in a fan paying the team in advance for games s/he might attend. This may change in the early years of the new stadium, where sellouts might be the norm for years, but there is never a shortage of seats at RFK except on opening day. Scalpers will continue to run amok as long as there is a yawning chasm of available seats at RFK. The Tavares "plan" provides a further disincentive to purchasing season tickets and punishes loyal fans.