Phils fans set for march on Washington

Posted: May 04, 2012

WE'RE GOING.

We're getting into our cars and onto trains or buses and we're going.

The Washington Nationals only think they can keep Phillies fans from swarming into Nationals Park with the ticket campaign that they inaugurated earlier this year: "Take Back the Park."

Think again.

Philadelphia will be well-represented when the Phillies visit Washington for a three-game series beginning Friday night. We know this because you told us on our Facebook page.

Luck Nucky: "I'm already booked!"

William Haines: "Yup . . . Friday night!!! Half a dozen of us will be here."

Ted Kupper: "Yep."

Seems the Nationals have grown weary of seeing Nationals Park overrun with Phillies fans whenever the NL East defending champs swing through Washington. We have so congested the place that certain blogs have starting calling it "Citizens Bank Park South," thanks to a sign in the bleachers during a game against the Phillies last August.

So the Nationals decided they had to do something. And they did. In February, the team gave fans located in D.C., Maryland and Virginia the first shot at tickets for home games against the Phillies. The attempt at blocking sales to those outside the region ended March 8. Club chief operating officer Andrew Feffer recently told Washington radio statio WTOP that the Nationals wanted to "really ignite a natural rivalry between two teams 2 1/2 hours apart."

Feffer has been pleased with how it has worked out. He added, "The local response was the highest ticket sales that we had for any series this year, both of presale and when single-game tickets went on sale."

The plan, though, does have a hint of desperation to it. The Nationals recently began offering two free tickets to future games against other teams if fans bought two tickets to the Phillies series. As of Thursday night, 1,214 tickets were available on popular site StubHub. Prices range from as low as $15 for an outfield seat to as much as $450 in the cushy presidential seats.

Feffer hinted that the team could have more plans in the works should Phillies fans show up in big numbers, especially for Sunday night's nationally televised game. "We're not done yet," he told the Wall Street Journal.

The Daily News attempted for several days to speak with Feffer. A Nationals spokesman told us he would be unavailable for comment. When reminded that he had spoken with WTOP, the spokesman said Feffer could "only accommodate requests from local and national media." (Memo to Andy: If you have an online presence - which the Daily News obviously does - you are national media.)

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray declared this a "Natitude weekend," with a city proclamation that says, among other things, this weekend "all local residents show support of their hometown team," that "Nationals players represent a 'Natitude' worthy of emulation, hard work, determination and the spirit of teamwork on and off the field," and even this: "Every day the Nationals inspire our residents to 'Ignite Your Natitude.' "

Phillies fans are a presence throughout baseball whenever the team plays outside of Philadelphia, not just Washington. According to John Weber, the Phillies' vice president of sales and ticket operations, "our fan support at Citizens Bank Park and on the road has been incredible." Weber said he was reminded of this when he recently attended a Phillies game in San Francisco.

"I had just gotten there and I was standing in the concourse," he said. "We scored a couple of runs in the first inning and by the reaction I just assumed it had been the Giants who had scored. That was how vocal our fans out there were."

Weber said, "This has been going on for 4 or 5 years and it is really something special."

Given how tough a ticket the Phillies have been at home - Citizens Bank Park has had 214 consecutive sellouts - it is not surprising that fans follow the team on the road. Opponents close to Philadelphia have become especially attractive destinations, which is why Washington has become a home away from home for Phillies fans.

Weber had no comment on the Nationals' "Take Back the Park" campaign.

But a Temple University professor did.

And he liked it.

"This is the first time a team has actively marketed a rivalry," said Dr. Joris Drayer, who is with the Sport Industry Research Center and whose expertise is ticket sales. "I think it is quite a good approach."

Drayer added that "historically, professional sports team have been conservative," wary of doing something that could be spun the wrong way. But he says "that the market appreciates a little edginess and innovation."

While Drayer agreed that "a seat filled is a seat filled," he said the Nationals would prefer having their own fans in the park because they are more likely to end up repeat customers. He added that hometown fans are also more likely to buy souvenirs and such.

Drayer added that the Nationals were offering "sort of a challenge" to their fans. "What they are saying is, 'Hey, you guys have not been loyal fans. You have to be more passionate.' "

Like Phillies fans?

Drayer chuckled and said, "Like Phillies fans."


Contact Mark Kram at kramm@phillynews.com.

 

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