Photo: Rob Stimets, used by permission
This afternoon I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. It was dubbed "The Business of Baseball", and featured several front-office personnel from the Nationals, notably Chief Operating Officer Andy Feffer. It was hosted by FP Santangelo and was focused, as one would expect, on the money side of baseball especially with regards to the Nationals and their burgeoning customer base.
During Feffer's remarks to the crowd, and also during the Q&A with he and some VPs of marketing, sales, and corporate partnerships (that sort of thing) it was pointed out time and again how hard the Nationals work to improve the customer "experience" at the ballpark. Making the games enjoyable for the fans, win or lose, is of vital importance to the livelihood of the organization.
This all makes perfect sense. They believe that they are in a unique position in the sports business world to create a fan base in their own style. They have a unique opportunity to use previously-unheard-of mechanisms like social media to allow the fan base to have a very real say in the way the Washington Nationals brand is grown. They have a unique market, both large and affluent, that makes rapid and sustained growth that much more likely, and critical to long-term success. And now they have constructed a product on the field that makes the team not just a local, but a national interest story.
This is a popular theme. It's a concept that's not just about the players, but the organization as a whole and its fans. Scoffed at by some, it is, in fact, a curiously charming and apropos description of the 'vibe' associated to the Nationals. The Presidents' Race, the young and still-not-in-their-prime superstars on the field, the distinctly-DC. food choices, and the wounded-warrior appreciation tributes: they're all part of a baseball experience enjoyed at Nats' Park and nowhere else in the world.
As is "Take On Me".
The song has taken on a life of its own. People look forward to it. Think about that: people look forward to a player's walk-up music. They get good and lubricated almost for the very reason of becoming willing to try out that high E. It is definitely a part of the Nationals' game experience and the culture of "Natitude". And while not hearing that song every game won't kill the fan base or anything like that, the fans would surely lose something that they were able to be a part of -- they and they alone.
Now, I'm a curmudgeon when it comes to the purity of the game over the business of the game or the "fan experience". "Bah! Put a winning team on the field and the ticket sales will take care of itself!" Well, yes, to a point that's true. But there are obvious examples of teams that win and don't draw, and teams that lose and draw big regardless. Making the game an "event" will keep the crowds coming during the good and the bad times.
And having players who are fan favorites will help do the same. Obviously, that's Morse. He brings quite a bit to the park every day -- not just on the field but the charm, the kooky pelican-ninja pose, and, yes, "Take On Me".
I hate to get too maudlin, but I think they'd lose a lot more than just a good ball player if they trade Michael Morse away, and I think they will come to regret it if they do.