WASHINGTON – Nationals Park is chock full of fans. Unfortunately for the home team, these patrons aren’t cheering for them.
The Washington Nationals face a serious problem as they try to fill the seats at the home park: Philadelphia Phillies fans, coming from just 125 miles up Interstate 95, flock to the nation’s capital in droves, spurred by the difficulty they face getting tickets to their own home games.
Last year, the Phillies sold out 230 consecutive games, while the Nationals’ attendance ranked almost at the bottom of the National League.
Andrew Feffer, the team’s chief operating officer, launched a new campaign in February dubbed “Take Back the Park,” which he hopes will get more posteriors in the seats and increase what he calls “Natitude,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
In order to keep the Philadelphia opposition, which at least one Nats fan calls “so obnoxious,” from swamping the stadium, Feffer banned single-ticket sales outside of D.C., Maryland or Virginia in February for the two teams’ series to begin on Friday, May 4. The ban expired March 8. He sees the sacrifice to ticket sales as an adequate trade for purifying the bleachers of the enemy.
Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo believes exterminating the Phanatics from the stadium is simple.
“Beat ‘em,” he said, while speaking at the National Press Club on Friday.
“Whether the Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves or the Florida Marlins, when you start beating them on a regular basis, as Stan Kasten once said, ‘You’ll get the attendance you deserve,'” he said of the team’s former president.
Rizzo says he has great faith in the team’s lineup this year, which “is great for the 22,000″ who are passionate enough about the team to regularly show up. But the team should be doing more to draw a crowd.
“You make it by winning. People want to be associated with winners,” he said.
When asked about facing off against a town with a strong history of baseball like Philadelphia, Rizzo says D.C. residents have already done the work.
He doesn’t see a crowd at games who needs the scoreboard to know when to cheer or when to boo, he says.
“It’s a very smart baseball IQ town,” says Rizzo. “When we start winning, which is right around the corner, we’re going to fill the place.”