We know the Washington Nationals are having a disappointing 2013 with the expectations they set. Many will blame the players, managers, and front office and deserving so. If there is a silver lining for the Nats disappointment, it magnifies the real issue: the fan experience.
Yes, the best fan experience at the ballpark is a win, but there are many ways to make the ballpark experience better besides a win. For that, I lay that on the COO of the Washington Nationals, Andy Feffer.
When Feffer joined the Nationals in 2010, he was going to an up-and-coming club that has Strasburg (who was recovering from Tommy John Surgery), signed Bryce Harper, and tons of young talent in their farm system. Feffer was following in the footsteps of former President, Stan Kasten, who famously said this:
“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. It’ll be much easier if you drive down the road and come see us in Washington.” Kasten added, “Philly’s our best, closest National League rival. We always have great games with them here, because there’s so many Philly kids in college here. So we always have great, enthusiastic crowds, and we hope you all come back again.” More Kasten: “You can come here early, we open two and three hours early, have a good time. … I promise you, just coming to a ballgame will be more than worth the trip.” Kasten added, “We want to see you here, and we would welcome your fans here. And I’ve got to tell you, I have gone to enough games in three different sports in Philly to tell you that I haven’t always felt welcome in your parks, OK? But you can root for whoever you want, you will be welcome when you come to Nationals Park.” Kasten also said the Nationals are “doing really well in our community … but sooner or later we’re going to need to win to really establish ourselves in the market” (ESPN Radio 950 Philadelphia, 4/7 via SportsBusinessDaily).
Essentially, Feffer started from scratch and the only way to go was up. His first move as COO: remove the fireworks and replace it with a submarine horn for home runs and wins. There were mostly negative press about the move, but it has become a tradition. There are some other good ideas from the tweetups to the Strasburger. However, it seems the fan experience has not changed (besides winning and expectations).
Feffer did bring in something new like the Union Square restaurants (Shake Shack, Box Frites, Blue Smoke, El Vernao Taqueria) but those restaurants are based in New York. Feffer couldn’t ask Spike Mendelsohn, Mike Isabella, or Jose Andres?
For the record, people who work at the Union Square restaurants, recognize me especially Box Frites since I was their first customer.
What has irked me the most is his handling of marketing and events. On the marketing side, I understand there are going to be kids, military, government, and senior days because D.C. is a federal city, but you can’t go outside the box for a few games? Bobbleheads and t-shirts giveaways are okay, but you can’t do Hawaiian shirt night, sweater vest night, Lucha Libre night, 80s night or worst of all, why not have Montreal Expos Day on Canada Day and bring in Youppi for one night to honor where this team originated from? Rat Pack Night doesn’t count.
Also, I know the D.C. is gentrifying, but Feffer can’t find an act beyond 90s “alternative” rock and country? We mock at the Braves, but they brought Run DMC to a postgame concert. You can’t ask Wale, Ginuwine, or DJ Kool to do a postgame concert? I’m sorry, but that’s laziness on Feffer or the events team.
Speaking of laziness, why use the “Natitude” slogan again for 2013 and use “Take On Me” for the 7th Inning stretch since we got that from a player we traded? Feffer thinks relieving 2012 is the best way to bring in fans instead of motivating them for a game and/or the season. “Natitude” might be on pace with “Rock the Red” as catchy slogans but can’t back it up with their play.
Oh, let’s not forget the rain ticket fiasco, “Natitude Park,” and the “Black Friday mob” for Bryce Harper bobblehead day and the gray Nats t-shirts.
Feffer has done some good things, but the bad has outweigh the good. What I see in Feffer is he is trying to represent the Mark Liebovich version of D.C. instead of representing the real D.C. That is a bad thing and it will likely not change until he’s gone.