Voting With Your Wallet
Earlier this week, over at that other triumverate Nats blog, Nats Triple Play, Dave dropped a bomb that exploded into 32 little comment pieces. The catalyst of the incendiary device was that Dave thinks people who are chucking their season ticket plans in protest of Jim Bowden, Bud Selig, the non-existent owner and the fiasco that is Nats' front office situation are whiners who are ultimately hurting the team. He is committed to some pretty expensive seats for 81 games (as we are) and he thinks he's investing for the long-term, which is what he thinks real Nats fans should be doing as well. Somewhat inconsistently, though, he also argues that chucking your 20-game plan is also futile because MLB teams don't really care about individual ticket-holders because the real money comes to them from the big boys like advertisers, broadcasters, luxury box holders, sponsors etc.
I think Dave is wrong, in two fundamental ways. First, each and every one of the real "revenue drivers" he mentions depend heavily on the public's attention on the Nats, which largely consists of, and is almost universally measured by, game attendance. If the crowds are small, everything he cites is less valuable -- advertisers seek lower prices or more ads per buy, broadcasters aren't willing to pay as much to show a quiet, empty stadium, Johnny Jaguar is less likely to bring Senator Schmooze to an empty house. So if disgruntled fans stop showing up, it will hit the team bottom line eventually.
Second, and more important, his focus on the "season ticket buy" and its effect on the value of the team is too narrow. Although tickets sold is a significant way that fans convey a benefit to the Nats, it is not the only way, and fans can provide benefit in addition to or in lieu of plunking down dollars for a ticket package. Obvious examples of other such benefits include concession purchases at the game, buying a hat or other licensed merchandise, and watching televised games and patronizing advertisers. Another important and often overlooked item is generating and maintaining buzz about the team. A good example of this comes from that season-ticket chucking, commie-agitator Yuda, who most forcefully objected to Dave's post. Though he has declined his season tickets this year, he still hosts a blog on the Nats farm prospects and chat area where many of us waste time and attention on the local nine. I've written before how things like that and other blogs have increased my enjoyment of the Nats and therefore made me more likely to go to games. Indeed, Gameday chat has been instrumental in getting people to use our seats that would otherwise go unused.
In other words, each Nats fan can offer of package of benefits to the ballclub, of which ticket purchase is only one part. Mine is pretty extensive, as it consists of a 1/4 share of expensive 81-game season tickets, 12 games attended (parking, concessions, etc.), XM radio subscription, DirecTV subscription, MLB.com subscription, watching/listening to games, this blog, and some merchandise. The important thing is that our most effective way to communicate to the Nats about our satisfaction with the product they provide is to adjust this package of benefits. Most of us offer an extensive package like this -- we have pretty high demand for baseball, probably in the 90th percentile. If they piss me off too much, I'll stop blogging (lord knows I can do that easily), go to fewer games, cut back one of my subscriptions, etc. It is the only voice we have, really, and it is the kind of reciprocity that makes any marketplace work.
It makes sense that people like Dave and me, who have made the decision to support the club with a lot of money and time, also want others to do the same. We've bought in and need to make the best of it. But any good investor should diversify, so that we don't lose all leverage relative to the club -- otherwise our voice can be ignored more easily. It's a true paradox -- we should both support the team but remain wary, and drive a hard bargain at all times. Trust but verify, in a sense.
How much influence we might have, if any, is an open question. Ironically today I also ran across this quote, which is apt:
Most of the vocal people on the mail lists, blogs and wikis are more fans
than creators. It’s as if we confused baseball players with people who sit in
the stands watching a baseball game. Sure, both wear caps and want their team to
win, but one actually does something about it, while the others expresses an
opinion. There are a lot of fans, but relatively few people who actually do
We are probably delusional to think any of this matters much. And Dave's post raises interesting questions about what we actually expect to receive in trade for all these benefits we give to the Nats -- I don't think it is simply a winning team. Or, more accurately, I think the trade may be very fair even if the Nats don't come close to winning. But that's a post for another day.