When the Nationals game against the Braves on Monday night went to extra innings after a rain delay, Nationals fans who took a Metro subway train to the game faced a terrible choice at about 11:00 p.m. They could either stay to the end of the game and get the full value of their ticket and the experience of a tense, exciting game, or they could leave. Why? Because the Metro system stops running trains about midnight during the week and the Nationals do not have an agreement in place with Metro to run the trains late to accommodate the paying fans.
The Nationals started informing fans at the park on the message board that Metro was going to stop running trains at midnight. A significant exodus of fans occurred when folks realized that they needed to catch a train before the system shut down. Those that missed the message or stayed anyway then had to figure out how to get home with no vehicle. If the fans lived in the city, that may have been a short taxi ride or Metrobus ride. For those who live in the outer suburbs, it had to have been a nightmare.
The Nationals organization for some reason has stubbornly refused to enter into an agreement with Metro to run the trains past the official closing time when the Nats games last later than anticipated. For the first several seasons after the Nats opened the new park in DC, the District government agreed to pay the additional money Metro requires to run late train service to try to make the ballpark a success. The District government ended that policy two years ago. Since then, the Nationals have not resolved the problem.
Metro requires a refundable deposit of $29,500.00 to be paid in advance by an organization that wants the trains run outside of normal operating hours. The organization is charged that fee, offset by the fares collected by Metro for the extra operating time. If the Nationals need the trains run late, they just have to notify Metro about an hour in advance of normal closing time, and Metro will keep the trains running.
According to Kytja Weir, in an article written for the Washington Examiner, the Nationals made arrangements in advance for a Phillies game in June to run the trains late. Since the Nats didn’t play the Phillies in June, I suspect the game she is referring to in her article was the game between the Nats and the Phillies on May 6th, the game televised on ESPN which did not start until 8PM. I suppose the Nats PR department figured out that having half the fans leave during late innings of a nationally televised game because they were afraid they would miss their train home wouldn’t look too good, so they had better pony up the cash and ask Metro to run the trains so that the fans could stay for the whole game.
The local all news radio station, WTOP, reported on its website today in an article written by Mark Seagraves that the Nationals have now asked the District government to pay for late night trains during the post season games. At least the Nats have recognized that late night trains may be necessary after post season games, which start later in the evening and tend to run longer than regular season games because of the commercial breaks taken by the networks televising the games.
The Nats need to recognize that this is their problem to solve. This is not a situation where the Nationals need to have their hand out asking for the District government to pay for an amenity for the fans that the Nationals should recognize is their responsibility.
The Nationals are getting the benefit of increased attendance this year because they have put a better product on the field than they have in past years. Attendance is up dramatically at Nats Park. Traffic around the park, and getting to and from games if you are driving, is generally not painful even though many more people are going to games. Know why? Many fans heed the urging of District officials and the Nationals and take Metro to the games. If you stand outside of Nats Park at the center field game before a game, you can see thousands of fans walking from the Metro station to the park.
If people start to believe that they are going to be stranded after a late game because the Nationals will not pay Metro to run the trains late, some portion of those fans will stop using Metro. They will start driving to the games. That will increase traffic around the park and on all of the roads approaching the park. If the traffic becomes miserable, some fans will stop coming to games altogether. It’s easier to watch the game on TV than to have to leave home for a game two hours before game time and then crawl in a traffic jam every time you buy tickets to a game. It’s not worth it.
This is not how you build your fan base. You make it easier to attend games, not more difficult. The Nationals don’t seem to realize that if the fans know that no matter what time the game ends Metro will get them home, more of them will use Metro. The more fans that use the system, the more fare offsets there will be against the maximum cost of $29,500.00 to keep the system running late.
It is a little difficult to take the Nationals bragging about being the first major professional stadium to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council seriously when they are making decisions about public transportation that ultimately could cause thousands of fans to choose to drive to the park, increasing the amount of pollution and gasoline usage by those fans. I don’t think the recycling containers that the Nationals put at the park will offset all the greenhouse emissions and waste of natural resources caused by the extra vehicles on the road.
The Redskins and the Capitals do not stress their fans out about whether Metro will be available for them. Both teams have agreements with Metro to run the trains late if necessary. The Redskins and the Capitals take care of their fans. The Nationals need to follow their example and do the same.