City Desk

Evidence Now Shows That Nats Should Have Given Refunds When Strasburg Was Scratched

37 Strasburg Red JerseyYesterday on "The Sports Reporters," the great Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin discussed the sudden dropoff in attendance for games when Stephen Strasburg pitches. Only 21,695, which the Washington Post called "the smallest crowd to watch Strasburg pitch in the majors," showed up at Nationals Park on Sunday for his latest appearance. This following a crowd of just 25,939 coming for his August 10 start against the Florida Marlins.

I blame management. Strasburg drew 40,043 to Nationals Park on a weekday night a month ago. That's a huge turnout for a lousy team. But when Strasburg told coaches that he was having trouble getting loose before the game, he was scratched. And fans booed.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with yanking the young pitcher if he's wounded. But Nats management, following baseball tradition where starts are really just scheduled and not guaranteed, didn't take any steps to appease the boo-birds. No refunds, no free popcorn, no nothing.

Cheap Seats Daily insinuated that the team should have given disgruntled fans their money back or taken some step to mollify the masses. Baseball tradition doesn't offer clues on how to deal with Strasburg. The team and its flagship TV network, MASN, had promoted Strasburg's expected start for days before the Braves game like nothing in the history of baseball.

To my thinking, had the event been as aggressively billed as Stephen Strasburg Bobblehead Night, and fans expecting a bobblehead were told when they arrived that the dolls were unavailable, surely refunds would have been offered.

Both my readers hammered me for taking the refund position. But now, with two average crowds showing up for his last two starts, it seems pretty plain that that canceled start, and management's failure to do anything nice for the new fans who'd jumped on the Strasburg bandwagon, had its consequences. At the very least, it's killed off all prospecting among ticket buyers.

I hear vindication for my stance in the quieted turnstiles.

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  • NY

    Giving back refunds is ridiculous. The lower attendence probably would have happenned even if refunds were given. He is now not seen as such a reliable pitcher. He could be scratched at any time. He is also not pitching as well and the newness has worn off. The sttendence probably would have dropped of by now anyway. NO REFUNDS!

  • Chris

    I think that another way to look at the lower attendance is that he isn't throwing 16 K games. Only lasting 4 1/3 innings is typical for the Nats these days. Also, this past Sunday started out with some pretty crummy weather....

  • Resident85

    Have you lived in DC for any length of time? August is dead around here. I don't think you should point completely to Strasburg's performance as the reason for the drop off.

    Also your idea of refunds for baseball tickets is ridiculous. If that were the case, I'd want a refund every time the Nats play poorly and lose - oh, wait...

  • Dave McKenna

    NY & Resident85: How is giving refunds ridiculous if it makes your fan base happy? A 50 percent dropoff in attendance is pretty severe, dontcha think? and what's flawed with my Bobblehead Night analogy? if you saw the TV commercials the Nats and MASN were running leading up to Strasburg's non-start, surely you'd agree: There's nothing flawed with my Bobblehead Night analogy!

  • NY

    There maybe something wrong with the way Nats and MASN promoted his start so heavily. I did not see the promotions. That could be an issue here. I aqree with you on that. But you still cannot give out refunds when a star player is injured and cannot play. What are you going to do if season tickets sales jump up for next year based on the Nats promoting Strasburg and then he gets a season ending injury in Spring Training? Are you going to refund season tickets? It just cannot logically be done. Where would it stop? What if the leading hitter on the team sits out a game because the manager feels he needs a rest? Refunds there too?

  • Joe

    Dave,

    There are two issues here:

    1) What was the most financially prudent thing the Nats could have done?
    2) What should the Nats have done from the standpoint of being a good organization?

    #1 is an issue that I can't comment on because I don't know how typical August vacations effect attendance, whether a dip was reasonable given the fact that a lot of fans have already seen him pitch, etc.

    #2 is an entirely different point. When you buy a ticket for a sporting event, you are paying to see two teams compete against each other. If Strasburg doesn't play, you still get to see that Nationals play some other MLB team. Maybe you don't get to see what you were hoping you'd see, but you get what you paid for. To my knowledge, the Nats don't raise ticket prices on days Strasburg pitches, so ticket holders shouldn't expect a refund if he doesn't pitch. Maybe it's in the best interest of the organization to hand them out anyway, but that's an entirely different story.

    If you're buying tickets to a team sporting event just to see one player and he or she does not play (whether due to injury, suspension, or a number of other reasons), TOUGH LUCK.

  • Ghost of Jack Kent Cooke

    Young Stephen is not a novelty any more, Davey my boy. And half the town is at the beach or back where they come from. No one's gonna head down to Nationals Park if they're in Rehoboth or the Vineyard or out at Flathead Lake.

    Stick to beating up on that lowlife Snyder. You're doing a good job on that.

  • http://thedcuniverse.blogspot.com/ Scotus

    In the event of a bobblehead night gone awry, wouldn't the Nats just give out bobblehead vouchers that could be redeemed whenever the bobbleheads actually arrived?

    But anyway, I was at the game the night Strasburg was scratched. Yes, it was disappointing. Yes, the crowd was upset. No, we shouldn't have gotten refunds.

    As for the diminishing crowds, I think a sample size of more than two games is required to determine if Stasburgmania is waning. But even if it is, the moment the Nats announce when they're shutting Strasburg down for the year, it's a safe bet his last few starts will sell out again.

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  • Falls Church

    Perhaps you didn't notice the complete lack of any Strasburg-related promotion for his two most recent starts after being on the DL. That probably had something to do with the dropoff in attendance, wouldn't you think? That put the Strasburg starts on the same level as any other Nats game. The first one was against the Marlins, who never draw well here. And the second was on a rainy Sunday, and rainy days usually have lower attendance. Not to mention that it was also against the DBacks, who don't draw here either. Yet the Strasburg Marlins game drew better than the other two Marlins games in that series, and the Strasburg rainy Sunday drew more than a normal rainy Sunday against the DBacks would. So evidence would show that there is still a Strasburg bump. The Nats just have decided not to milk it for all it's worth any more.

  • Beantown

    Eh it's interesting but I don't think that contributes to such a high drop off. I think it moreso has to do with the buzz being somewhat over, a couple of bad starts, no real chance of making the playoffs, it's hot as hell out there in August, and kids are going back to school, ie less vacations to dc + less people overall anyway. It's definitely interesting but can't say that I agree. As for refunds that would mean anytime they draw a crowd for him then it's 50/50 they'll make money or owe money, depending on an injury. You can't run a business that way. And I don't think there would be refunds for no bobble-head but could be wrong.

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  • Falls Church

    Maybe instead of issuing refunds on days when Strasburg is scheduled to pitch but doesn't, they should just let everyone in for free on days he's scheduled to start and charge $100 for anyone who wants to leave before the last out. Not the last out Strasburg pitches, the last out of the game. They'd probably come out way ahead if they did that.

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