Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Major League Baseball’s new Washington franchise wants to start selling tickets for the 2005 season in mid to late November, team president Tony Tavares said yesterday.

That timeline is not guaranteed, but ticketing remains a priority for Mr. Tavares and special consultant Kevin Uhlich in their whirlwind preparations for baseball in the District. The ticket-sale date has been a question among local fans since MLB executives announced their decision to move the Expos from Montreal to the District three weeks ago.

Mr. Tavares is in “advanced negotiations” with both Ticketmaster and Tickets.com to become the team’s ticket distributor, with a final choice expected in the next few days. Other key parts of the ticketing infrastructure, such as setting up a sales office and hiring a box-office manager, also are close to being finalized, he said.

“This is still a guess, but I would say we’re looking at the 15th of November or something toward the end of November [to begin selling tickets],” said Mr. Tavares, who arrived in town last week from Montreal and is working out of the Washington Hilton. “We really need to get the pieces in place before we really get going on a timetable, but that’s the hope.”

The average cost, which has not been finalized, is being targeted at $24 to $25 for a single-game ticket. RFK Stadium, where the team will play for three seasons, will seat about 45,000 people for baseball.

Similar to most teams, season, partial-season and group ticket sales likely will occur before individual games become available. Most MLB teams are collecting deposits for 2005 season tickets by now.

The soon-to-be-renamed Expos have not released their 2005 schedule yet, but a schedule has been distributed within baseball and to key D.C. officials. Parts of the schedule, including the April 4 opener in Philadelphia and April 15 home opener against Arizona, have been made public through other MLB teams and industry sources.

The full set of 2005 schedules is expected early next month. Even though the full schedule is unknown, the Washington Baseball Club, the prospective ownership group led by financier Fred Malek, has collected more than 15,000 names of those interested in tickets for the D.C. team.

In addition to the ticketing issues, the agenda this week for Mr. Tavares and Mr. Uhlich includes securing office space, establishing a team store somewhere in downtown Washington and continuing to meet with D.C. officials about renovations to RFK Stadium.

The day-to-day schedule to prepare the 43-year-old facility for baseball, though still in development, is expected to accelerate next month when Allen Lew begins his tenure as executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. Ordering sod for the playing field, one of the first major steps in preparing the stadium for baseball, could take place in the next few weeks.

“We’re still very much operating on the fly, but whereas last week was a lot of investigating and assessing, we’re going to be closing deals, advancing the ball this week,” Mr. Tavares said. “We’re having fun.”

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