- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nationals Park is expected to provide a major upgrade in fan experience over RFK Stadium, and it’s also likely to provide a big financial boost to the franchise.

With ticket prices in the upper echelon of Major League Baseball teams and attendance likely to top 2.5 million a year, the Nationals are expected to boost revenue by as much as $50 million, according to some estimates. And with a favorable stadium deal and strong interest from sponsors, the team should find itself among the more financially stout teams in baseball.

Ticket prices are about 20 percent higher than they were at RFK Stadium, and the recent history of new stadiums in the majors suggests that attendance at Nationals games will increase from 24,000 a game to between 30,000 and 35,000 in the first season.

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All of that makes sponsorships more valuable, and the team is already beginning to cash in: The club landed multimillion-dollar deals with PNC Bank, which will sponsor the Diamond Club seats behind home plate, and GEICO, which will sponsor the “Racing Presidents” characters.

Club president Stan Kasten said the team would like to secure sponsorships for nearly every significant feature and program at the ballpark. The Nationals spent several million dollars to expand the outfield scoreboard to allow for increased advertising and also installed additional ribbon boards that will provide space for sponsors.

“People are discovering different pieces of geography in the park that sponsors may want to be involved with,” Kasten said. “Some sponsors are waiting to see traffic and how people move and what they like and where they want to hang out. So that is always a work in progress. But it’s been spectacular. It’s been great.”

The Nationals have held off on completing a naming-rights deal for the ballpark, citing a lack of time to secure the type of broad, integrated deal they want.

The lack of a deal could cost the team as much as $10 million in the first year, industry analysts said, but a successful season in year one could make the naming rights more valuable in 2009.

The impact of the higher revenue likely will be bolstered by the Nationals’ stadium deal with the District, considered to be the most team-friendly in the major leagues.

The team will pay about $5 million annually in rent but will carry no debt related to the construction. The club also will collect all the money from sponsorships and naming rights for the stadium and can collect revenue from non-game day events and functions such as bar mitzvahs and wedding receptions.

Meanwhile, industry sources said the Nationals’ deal with Centerplate, the stadium concessionaire, could be one of the most lucrative in baseball, giving the team more than 50 percent of regular concession revenue plus a share of any money taken in from catering.

The team spent several million dollars to expand a restaurant in center field and expand the outfield concourse to allow for more food and beverage stations.

But the Nationals are unlikely to see the full financial effects of the new facility right away. The club was unable to sell all of its premium seats for the season. In addition to getting no money for naming rights in the stadium’s first year, the team was not able to carry over any sponsorships from RFK to the new ballpark, forcing officials to start from scratch.

“All sponsorships were new starting this year,” Kasten said. “Usually I have 30 percent of my inventory turn over. This year I have 100 percent. So, we’ve got a vast majority of our inventory sold, but we have a lot more that we can sell and will sell even into the season and during the season.”

The Nationals also will be hurt by the lack of parking at and around the stadium. While many teams are able to cash in on thousands of spaces in their ballpark’s vicinity, most fans are likely to take Metro to Nationals Park.

“Every team has pluses and minuses,” Kasten said. “We are blessed with far more many pluses than minuses. We’re always trying to make as much as we can to make the whole enterprise work.”

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