- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the past week, sports fans have witnessed the signings of three high-profile athletes with very different stories.

There was the Nationals’ landing of Stephen Strasburg, a college pitching phenom; the Vikings’ signing of Brett Favre, a future Hall of Famer who can’t stay away; and the arrival in Philadelphia of Michael Vick, a superstar quarterback-turned-criminal seeking a shot a redemption.

In each case, teams will be under pressure to make the most of their respective investments either by winning games, selling more tickets or both. But the approaches likely will be distinct.

For the Nationals, the challenge will be to develop Strasburg into an elite pitcher while capitalizing on his presence through increased sales of tickets and merchandise. And in some ways, the two goals are incongruous; many fans will plead for the team to bring him up to pitch at Nationals Park as soon as possible — take-it-slow approach be darned.

“Right now he’s a minor leaguer,” Nationals president Stan Kasten said Tuesday. “Minor leaguers don’t sell tickets. We’ll have a lot of time to work on that.”

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that Strasburg will appear at a news conference Friday afternoon at Nationals Park and that fans can pay $1 to see the event and attend that evening’s game.

“Once every five games or so, he’s going to put a lot of fans in the seats,” said Scott Minto, director of the sports business MBA program at San Diego State University, where Strasburg played.

San Diego State’s athletic department had a special season-ticket package for nights when Strasburg pitched. That kind of promotion may be tough to replicate in the major leagues, but there are plenty of other ways Strasburg can become an integral part of the Nationals’ marketing plans.

“Those kinds of ideas I’m sure are already starting to float around Nationals Park in Southeast, and people are trying to figure out ways to make some money off this kid,” Minto said.

Favre’s signing, meanwhile, has been met with some ridicule nationally, with many fans mocking Favre’s seemingly pathological indecisiveness over his career plans.

But in Minnesota, the positive impact has been immediate. Since news of the Favre signing broke Tuesday morning, the Vikings have sold more than 3,000 season tickets. Demand for tickets was so high that the team’s ticketing Web site crashed, and an early batch of 1,200 Favre Vikings jerseys on NFLShop.com was sold out within hours.

“For Minnesota, they believe Brett gives them the best chance to win,” Minto said. “They have great fans who know they may be just a quarterback away.”

And then there’s the Philadelphia Eagles and Vick, who served nearly two years in federal custody for running a dogfighting operation. This was not a signing made to sell tickets — Eagles games are sold out with a waiting list a millennium long. This was a football decision, plain and simple. That said, the Eagles’ news conference introducing Vick featured all the right people saying all the right things — with an acknowledgement that not all fans would be happy with the signing.

“I know some people will not agree,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “But on the other hand, I think the majority will, and fortunately in this country if we handle ourselves the proper way we’re given the opportunity for second chances. People understand that.”

Hardly the warm welcome expected for Favre in Minnesota. And rest assured the Eagles didn’t sell $1 tickets.

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