I have been in a daze since I got home from the ballpark on Monday evening.
My family and friends all asked me how Opening Day was, and my universal answer was “horrible”.
I have been a Nationals fan (and a Senators fan before that) long enough to know that 11-1 losses happen. It is part of the territory when you fall in love with a perennial last-place team. I was prepared for that.
But I have never… EVER… felt as uncomfortable and unwelcome at a baseball game as I did on Monday… and that includes my experiences at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. To say that a plurality of the Phillies fans in attendance were rude – that would be an understatement. Many of the things I witnessed were just boorish. Some were insulting and a few were dangerous. Overall, it was an unpleasant day all the way around.
I could have sat in my office in Anchorage and watched it on the Internet and enjoyed it more.
The Nationals should be concerned – very concerned. Because when the live experience ceases to be more compelling than the television experience, people stay home. When a family has to weigh whether the excitement of a baseball game is worth the risk that you might end up sitting in a section with drunk, foul-mouthed and potentially violent fans, people stay home.
When your customers are not treated with respect, people stay home.
The part that the Nationals don’t get is they bear some responsibility in making sure that the fan experience is a positive one, and that responsibility goes beyond making sure that the ballpark employees were friendly and helpful – on that the Nationals get a passing grade (but no better). But the Nationals created the situation where the fan base was so weak that they had to rely heavily on group sales to fill the park on Opening Day… and in doing so, leaving many of their local fans without tickets.
How could the Nationals not reasonably foresee what happened? Do they care?
Sure, the game was sold out. But in the process, they severely damaged their brand. They offended their best customers. They offended me.
When you consider how invested in this team I am, the fact that I am offended says something.
And while I am at it, let me say this. The best thing you can say about the President’s Race is that it is tired and stupid. If you really look at what’s happening here, the Nationals and GEICO are perpetuating the idea that “Teddy” is somehow loveable because he is incompetent. The problem is, Teddy has become a metaphor for the team. As long as the Nationals believe that mindset is acceptable, the team will be terrible. Think about this – if the Yankees had a mascot race with super-sized taxi drivers from the five boroughs, the driver from the Bronx would win every race, because for the Yankees, that is the only outcome that makes sense.
It is either time for Teddy to win, or to can the President’s Race altogether. I am a GEICO customer. Perhaps I should let them know.
If you tried to get Opening Day tickets, and you couldn’t get them, consider yourself among the lucky ones.