In my real life, I own a tour company. I spend a lot of time and effort creating tours for my customers that make for a positive experience from beginning to end. I can’t do anything about rain, or what the wildlife does, but I can make sure that all of the things that are in my control are the best they can be. I choose nice, safe, clean lodging. The vendors that offer services are friendly and helpful. I stand behind my product, and if anything ever goes wrong for my guests, I make it right… but more importantly, I do everything I can to make sure that nothing goes wrong in the first place. My guests pay their hard-earned money to get a premier experience. If something interferes with that, I am going to fix it for them.
I would expect none of this would be beyond the grasp of the Lerner family or the Washington Nationals organization as a whole. I am sure that at some abstract level, they would completely agree with me. However, from a practical standpoint, the Nationals organization either doesn’t get it, or, more disturbingly, gets it, but doesn’t care.
The Nationals fan experience at games like last night are transformative. Transformative in the sense that fans who experience the kind of rudeness, discomfort and humiliation that occurred last night (and also the Opening series this year) choose not to come back. The cynical view of last night’s events might be that most Nationals fans just stayed home, but really, that just proves the point. Why would a thinking fan subject himself or herself to an evening like last night, if you could just stay home and avoid it all? The outcome last night – the fan experience – was completely foreseeable, and it had nothing to do with winning and losing.
Mark Zuckerman wrote that if the team is so embarrassed, they should start winning. And yes, at one level, that is definitely an answer. A better team would be more competitive, draw more fans, and represent Washington better than the thousand or so of us did tonight – and honestly, there wasn’t much to cheer for. But the problem is much bigger than just winning. The problem is that the fan experience is toxic. The thousand of us that were there are presumably the Nationals best customers. We’re the ones that come out on a night that threatens rain, at the end of the season when there is (apparently) not even pride to play for anymore. Not only did we see a team that was just going through the motions, the thousands of Phillies fans in attendance berated us… to our faces… in our own home.
When Nationals Park was being built, Stan Kasten emphasized how important the entire fan experience was. You can have the best concessions, the best merchandise, the best parking and public transportation available, and yes, all of those things contribute to the positive fan experience. But none of that matters if your customers go home insulted.
The Nationals will probably point out that it isn’t fair to hold them responsible for the actions of a few (thousand) Phillies fans. Perhaps not. But my response would be, regardless of whether it is fair or not, can the Nationals afford to allow this to happen with every Philllies series?
If I were the owner of the Nationals, I would do everything in my power to insure that it doesn’t happen again. As much as some fans might like to after last night’s game, you can’t really restrict sales to just local people. The solution is to sell out the Nats – Phillies games. Obviously, making the Nats more competitive on the field would be a good start, but that isn’t going to solve this problem for years. The Nationals need a solution right now. Better local marketing, targeted at the Phillies series would help. Advance sales to local organizations… heck, if you have to give Nats – Phillies tickets away to every school kid with a B average just to get their parents to drag them down to the stadium… for heaven sakes, DO IT! There should be 40,000 fans in the stadium for every Nats-Phillies game, and 39,600 of them should be Nationals fans. Will it cost the Nationals money? Of course. But at least it won’t cost the Nationals fans.
Phillies fans are Nationals customers nine days a year, and they couldn’t care less about the Nationals. Nationals fans like me are customers every day of the year. We purchase Nationals merchandise and wear Nationals logos on our clothes, write about the team in our blogs, read everything we can get our hands on and travel long distances to see our team on the road. Nationals fans have done more than their share. We’re the ones the team should be trying to make happy.
Sometimes when you run a business, you have to do more than meet your best customers half way. Sometimes that means doing things out of the ordinary. Sometimes that means losing some money. Sometimes that could mean losing a lot of money.
What Nationals fans want right now… today… is a stadium full of Nationals fans at every Nationals – Phillies game.
We don’t care how you do it.