- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Many at Monday’s Washington Nationals home opener were stunned by the invasion.

Of Philadelphia fans, that is.

With the large contingent of Phillies fans - Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig noted hearing the “Let’s Go Phillies” chant during a meeting with reporters - the scene was the latest in a trend in professional sports.

Fans of many big-name teams, shut out of tickets at their home parks, have opted to travel other team’s stadiums — since it turns out to be cheaper to travel to another city than buy tickets by the secondary market.

Most notable in baseball are the sport’s crown jewels, the Red Sox and Yankees. With tickets scarce at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, fans of the two teams have opted to hit the road to cities such as Baltimore or Toronto to catch their club in person.

“We definitely feel it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News after a visit to Baltimore — although in front of thousands of New York fans. “It’s nice to have your fans travel wherever you go. It’s great. You hear the chants.”

The Yankees’ bitter rivals also draw a good share of visiting fans at Camden Yards as well, as Boston manager Terry Francona once called the team’s games in Charm City “like Boston in the south.”

And now, with tickets at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia getting scarce following back-to-back World Series appearances and fans willing to make the short drive south, Nats fans were in for a shock.

“That was impressive,” Phillies’ outfielder Jayson Werth said. “It felt like all of right field was only Phillies fans. This is starting to be our home away from home a little bit.”

For the teams themselves, it’s a tricky challenge.

On the one hand, the teams move tickets to help fill the park.

Last spring, Nationals president Stan Kasten went on Philadelphia’s ESPN 950 and encouraged fans to come down to the 2009 home opener — in Washington.

“We’d love for all our Philly fans to come down because I know it’s going to be so hard to get tickets in Philadelphia this year,” he told the station. “It’ll be much easier if you drive down the road and come see us in Washington.” The down side is the strategy is its potential for short-lived success, because you risk ailienating your own fan base who can be turned off by being jeered in their own park.

One sports owner who actively fought against the trend is Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

While the Capitals had always had a history of large visiting crowds for teams like the Flyers, Red Wings and Rangers, none seemed more evident than the Penguins — particularly since they were regular playoff opponents for the Capitals and showed up in large numbers during the postseason.

When Leonsis took over the Capitals in 1999, he tried several different methods of fighting the problem. At one point, he tried to prohibit fans with Pittsburgh area codes from buying tickets at Verizon Center when the Penguins are in town.

While it didn’t prevent Penguins fans from getting in the arena, it certainly made it more difficult for them to get tickets.

And as the Capitals became more competitive, tickets became scarcer and less available for fans.

Even during last spring’s playoff series with the Penguins, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Capitals denied at least one fan a chance to buy a pricey ticket package — because of a past history of purchasing just tickets for Penguins games.

The trend has caught on in the NHL, as the Carolina Hurricanes — and even the Penguins themselves — have used the policy during the playoffs to try and maintain a home-ice advantage.

In some cases, there isn’t a lot the team can do other than encourage their fans to not resell their tickets.

Even though the Redskins don’t sell single-game tickets, thousands upon thousands of Steelers fans showed up for a Monday night game at FedEx Field, as despite an extended sellout streak, fans had given up their tickets to those rooting against Washington — and forcing the Redskins to implement a silent snap count, a rarity for a home game.

The official position for MLB — or at least Bud Selig — is that the big road contingent was good for the game.

“I don’t know if it’s one-third or more fans from Philly, but for all these people to come to see this game, its great.” he said of the large contingent of visitors.

Washington shortstop Ian Desmond noted after Monday’s game that there really is just one solution to the problem — win.

“It is alright,” he said of the large contingent rooting against his club Monday. “It gives us something to work for. We want Nats Town and Nats Nation to be out. I live in Sarasota, Florida, and watched the Tampa Bay Rays stadium fill up with opposing teams’ fans. Now they have their own crowd. That is what we are working for.”

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