- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

The gloves are finally coming off for the Washington Nationals.

After refraining from extensive marketing during the first month of the season, the Nationals are preparing a full-throttle advertising and promotions campaign involving several giveaway days and capped with a new slogan: ‘Let Yourself Go.’

Ads will begin appearing across several forms of media and Metro buses this weekend and intensify next week as the Nationals return for a homestand beginning May13.

Also being released today is a long-delayed promotional and giveaway day calendar for the Nationals’ home schedule at RFK Stadium. On top the usual enticements to buy tickets, such as hats and toys, the team is planning several events to honor the city’s long baseball history, including one day devoted to the Negro Leagues.

The team, with the aid of McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co., also plans to distribute 2million pocket schedules in coming weeks.

Already a strong presence at the turnstiles, the Nationals hope the campaign will generate at least 400,000 new ticket sales, which would push the club to 2.5million in paid attendance for the season.

‘We wanted to get a better feel for the market, the stadium itself and how it handled crowds, the team during the first month and obviously learned a lot,’ said David Cope, Nationals vice president of sales and marketing. ‘Now we’re going to be out and very aggressive. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the team is playing beyond most people’s expectations.’

Washington’s series win this week in Los Angeles pushed its record to 15-13.

The earlier decision to suspend marketing efforts was a deliberate one, club officials said. The first month of the baseball season is typically beset with less than favorable weather and spotty crowds. Turnout is depressed not only because school is still in session but also because of typical industry patterns similar to those in basketball in which attendance grows after the playoff chases begin to gain definition.

Even amid that environment, the Nationals averaged 30,672 for their first two homestands, 12th best in Major League Baseball and in line with club president Tony Tavares’ goal of at least 30,000 a game.

The Baltimore Orioles, after small crowds this week in a home series against Toronto, stand 16th at 29,354 a game.

Beyond bulking up their own marketing presence, the Nationals also find themselves in a new situation competing for local fan dollars against the resurgent Washington Wizards, perennially popular Washington Redskins, Major League Soccer defending champion D.C. United, the Orioles, and nationally competitive college basketball and football programs. In Montreal, the former Expos’ fight for disposable fan income was more limited to the almighty Canadiens of the NHL and Canadian Football League Alouettes.

Nationals officials declined to disclose the costs of the marketing effort.

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