- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Washington Nationals officials say as few as 5,000 general admission tickets will be available for the team’s home opener next month, making it one of the hottest sports tickets ever in the city.

The Nationals are strongly considering the use of a lottery system to distribute at least a portion of those tickets to the historic event, a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 14 at RFK Stadium. That contest will mark the first regular-season Major League Baseball game played in Washington since September 1971.

A decision on whether the club will use a lottery is expected by the end of next week, and tickets are scheduled to go on sale March 26.

The exact number of available seats to the home opener has not been determined.

Purchasers of full-season and some partial-season ticket plans receive tickets to the home opener as part of their package. The Nationals also are offering full- and partial-season ticket holders the option to buy additional tickets to the opener.

A substantial allotment of tickets is expected to go to dignitaries and executives on the club’s VIP list.

However, it is certain that no more than 10,000 tickets to the home opener will be available to fans who do not buy at least a 20-game package to see the Nationals.

RFK Stadium will seat about 45,000 for baseball.

“No decision has been made yet on how to distribute the remaining tickets for opening night. But we certainly want to be fair,” said Kevin Uhlich, the Nationals’ chief operating officer. “The first step is to figure out exactly how many of the partial-plan holders are going to want more seats.”

If the Nationals do implement a lottery system, the club also expects to make some tickets available through Ticketmaster in a standard first-come, first-served process.

Interest in the home opener against the Diamondbacks already is red-hot on the secondary ticket markets, where prices have soared as high $1,200 per seat.

Face value for the tickets range from $7 to $90. Most, however, do not exceed $45; the $90 seats are limited to the Diamond Club section behind home plate, which is sold out.

The Nationals easily could sell out the home opener using any method of ticket distribution. However, the club is attempting to reward purchasers of full- and partial-season tickets as much as possible.

The strategy is designed to establish a long-term, stable base of attendance. It has worked so far: The Nationals say they have sold more than 20,000 full-season ticket packages, ranking the team in the top third among Major League Baseball clubs in that category.

The Nationals on Saturday begin the sale of tickets for individual games for every home contest, including an April 3 charity exhibition against the New York Mets, except the opener.

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