- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

With Nationals single-game tickets going on sale tomorrow, I decided to shoot a note to team president Stan Kasten to get a sense of what attendance might be like this year. Specifically, I was trying to find out what the team’s season ticket base will be, since the team has promised that anyone who buys season tickets this year will get a priority place in line for the new ballpark in 2008.

Kasten said he’s not going to reveal any information about season ticket sales for another month or so, since they are still dealing with requests and trying to accommodate previous season ticket holders who wanted to move to better seats.

I have heard from quite a number of fans who have decided not to renew their ticket plans this season because they are pessimistic about the team’s chances on the field. And a couple fans told me they think using the allure of the new stadium to sell tickets for this year is a dirty trick.

That said, it’s worth noting that I’m probably only going to hear from fans who are ticked off. Those who are excited about the season and the chance to get in line for 2008 aren’t going to call me.

The Nationals sold in the neighborhood of 16,000 season tickets last year, down from over 21,000 in the team’s inaugural season in D.C. But a decline in year two was expected, especially since the future of baseball in D.C. was in flux as late as March. Attendance overall dropped from about 33,600 in 2005 to 26,500 per game last season.

There are a few things now working in the team’s favor.

For one, the Lerner familly is now squarely in control of the team, giving the franchise more stability than it’s ever had. While the new owners haven’t gone gangbusters in spending money just yet, the team’s marketing presence is far greater than it once was. Secondly, construction of the new ballpark is coming along quickly, and there is virtually no doubt it will open for the 2008 season. (Contrast that to this time last year, when no one knew if there would be a new ballpark at all.) In addition, Nationals fans will enter this season knowing that every game will be on television; last year, most fans were shut out of seeing games because of a dispute between Comcast and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. These factors should bring the season ticket base back to a solid level.

On the flip side, however, the over/under on the Nationals loss total this year in the triple digits, and there’s no one by the name of Alfonso Soriano on the roster. If the team expects to play before crowds above 30,000 on a consistent basis, it may have to overachieve as it did in 2005.

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