A front page article in today’s Wall Street Journal has my Irish up (and I’m mostly Scotch-German). It concerns the Washington Nationals organization trying to have it both ways — full stadium attendance when the Phillies come to town, but with those seats occupied only by Nationals fans. Currently, this is the work (and job) of one Andrew Feffer.
Feffer is outraged that marauding Phils fans have traveled south to take over the mostly empty Nationals stadium whenever the NL East rivals played. The article cites the usual predictable nasty anecdotes about how horrible the sports fans of Philadelphia are. In this case, vomiting on a local fan’s shoes when he took his father to opening day. Well, there are horrible Philadelphia fans, but they are in the minority. Also, they are in roughly the same proportion as horrible fans from other cities. Philadelphia fans are the polar opposite of fair-weather, they are knowledgeable about their teams and their competitors, and they are passionate enough to take their support on the road.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of witnessing this phenomenon while vacationing in Los Angeles with my family. We wanted to take in a Dodgers game that week and were thrilled to learn the Phils were on a West Coast swing. Our only concern was awareness that LA had gotten some serious bad press after Dodgers faithful had beaten a Giants fan nearly to death in the parking lot earlier in the season. Turns out our concerns were unfounded. Like the Nationals, the Dodgers were having real trouble filling seats and as a result Phillies fans turned out in force. It was a great atmosphere and a real kick to watch our team notch a win in someone else’s ballpark. During every trip to the concession stands, a sea of red was high-fiving fellow travelers.
Back on the East Coast, for the past few seasons, Phils fans have actually helped boost the Nationals’ revenue by selling large blocks of tickets that would otherwise have been empty seats. Now, Andrew Feffer is leading an organizational charge to, in his mind, keep the barbarians at the gates. Really sad and shabby idea.
The solution is to field a winning team. The Nationals have been so bad as to be nearly unwatchable in recent years. It’s understandable to not fill seats when your team is terrible. There have been times in recent years, when the Braves and the Marlins had good teams and were unable to fill their stadiums, even at playoff time. This year, the Nationals have improved from those tough seasons and look like they might be more than competitive. Feffer should trust that winning baseball will attract people to the ballpark. I know there will be at least one. My friend, Glenn, has been a Nats ballpark regular when they were like watching paint dry. THAT’S a fan. Now, it’s thick. Glenn was also there through thin.
Competition is good for sports rivalries. You don’t build a fanbase by keeping other teams’ fans out of your own ballpark. I hope the Nationals new stadium is filled to capacity this weekend. With Nats and Phils fans watching some great baseball, cheering on their teams, and not vomiting on each others’ shoes. Go Phightins!