Seek­ing a bet­ter FedEx ex­pe­ri­ence

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DAN STEIN­BERG dan.stein­berg@wash­post.com

Among the most no­table fea­tures of this spring’s Wash­ing­ton Red­skins fan fo­rum held with top team ex­ec­u­tives: just how many fans ref­er­enced poli­cies the foot­ball team could bor­row from its lo­cal base­ball, hockey and bas­ket­ball coun­ter­parts. And as I re­call, the Na­tion­als were cited most fre­quently among Red­skins fans try­ing to im­prove the game-day ex­pe­ri­ence at FedEx Field.

Now, no one would say that a day at Na­tion­als Park is per­fect. The sta­dium it­self is of­ten de­scribed as for­get­table. Fans of­ten leave early, es­pe­cially be­cause there is no plan to ex­tend Metro ser­vice in the case of ex­tra innings. Lines can be long, there are of­ten throngs of vis­it­ing fans and there have been com­plaints about the apathy in pre­mium sec­tions and the unin­spir­ing views of the city.

Fur­ther, the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the Nats’ and the Red­skins’ game-day ex­pe­ri­ences, most fans would say, is their dif­fer­ent won-loss records. The Nats are reg­u­lars near the top of the Na­tional League East, and the Red­skins are reg­u­lars at the bot­tom of the NFC East.

The sec­ond-big­gest dif­fer­ence, fans would ar­gue, is sta­dium lo­ca­tion. Na­tion­als Park is in the city, near bars and restau­rants and a short walk from Metro, while FedEx Field is in the sub­urbs, with­out much nearby en­ter­tain­ment, and nearly a mile from Metro. Th­ese re­al­i­ties pre­date Daniel Sny­der, and they aren’t go­ing away any time soon.

All that said, are there things the Red­skins could learn from the Nats’ game-day ex­pe­ri­ence? I would ar­gue yes. Th­ese are things that have noth­ing to do with the prod­uct on the field, so a great many peo­ple would there­fore dis­miss them as silli­ness. But the Red­skins do seem to be hav­ing some dif­fi­culty lur­ing fans, and the Nats do seem to have a rep­u­ta­tion for of­fer­ing a more en­joy­able game-day ex­pe­ri­ence. 1) Food and drink I know you don’t go to sport­ing events be­cause of the food and drink op­tions, and I know you make fun of sushi-eat­ing, IPA-sip­ping ball­park dilet­tantes. But have you seen the lines at Shake Shack re­cently? Or at the Dis­trict Drafts craft-brew stands? Or at any num­ber of other Na­tion­als Park spe­cialty lo­ca­tions?

The fact is, sport­ing events seem to have moved be­yond fries and chicken fin­gers and masspro­duced do­mes­tic beers over the past decade, but FedEx Field has hardly changed. For at least two years in a row, the Nats have held pre­sea­son open houses to show off ex­ten­sive newf ood and drink op­tions to lo­cal me­dia mem­bers. They have a de­tailed on­line con­ces­sions guide, com­plete with healthy op­tions, gluten-free op­tions and veg­e­tar­ian op­tions.

They have made a push for lo­cally themed foods, from a Ch­e­sa­peake crab-themed stand to a Vir­ginia food stand. They have part­nered with lo­cal brew­eries to fea­ture a va­ri­ety of D.C. and Vir­ginia craft beers. And they have joined the ex­treme sta­dium food craze with the mas­sive DMV hot dog.

The Red­skins do not brag about or pro­mote new con­ces­sions items, do not seem to list their op­tions on­line and do not make it easy for gen­eral ad­mis­sion fans to get much be­yond the most ba­sic sta­dium of­fer­ings: fries, pizza, burg­ers, dogs and sausages. 2) Giveaways To be sure, there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween give away-heavy Ma­jor League Base­ball — with 81 home dates to sell— and the give­away-averse NFL.

Still, the Nats sched­uled 22 give­away dates this sea­son, fea­tur­ing items rang­ing from bob­ble­heads to Chia Pets to hats to posters to tow­els to gnomes to cups to cal­en­dars and on and on and on. I can’t re­mem­ber the last Red­skins give­away item that got fans ex­cited.

And while most NFL teams don’t fo­cus on cool giveaways, some do. The Buc­ca­neers gave away Der­rick Brooks bob­ble­heads to ev­ery fan when Brooks was in­ducted into the team’s Ring of Honor last fall. The Rams gave away 15,000 Robert Quinn bob­ble­heads and 15,000 James Lau­ri­naitis ac­tion fig­ures and also gave ev­ery­one rally tow­els and rally flags at dif­fer­ent games last sea­son.

There’s some­thing about leav­ing a sta­dium with a free­bie item that makes you feel ap­pre­ci­ated. 3) Pro­mo­tions Dollar dog night? The Score­board Walk happy hour, with dis­counted beers for up to 90 min­utes be­fore first pitch? Dollar ice cream night? Those coupons in The Post for $2 peanuts and two-forone so­das? The Nats at least oc­ca­sion­ally of­fer respite from hor­ri­ble mod­ern sta­dium prices.

Again, th­ese are dif­fer­ent sports, and we’re talk­ing about 81 dates vs. 10. But with sea­son ticket hold­ers locked into pre­sea­son game pur­chases, could the team not do dollar dogs for the hour be­fore all pre­sea­son games begin? Cheaper beer might not be a great idea, but could they sell cheaper so­das for one game ev­ery sea­son?

If you have 250,000 peo­ple dy­ing for a chance to get in the door, this would all sound silly. And maybe it still does. But my $6 pregame beers at Na­tion­als Park are colder and tastier than the more ex­pen­sive ones I buy af­ter the first pitch. 4) Those Pres­i­dents Look, we all used to gri­mace a bit when the Nats an­nounced the fourth-in­ning Pres­i­dents Race as “The Main Event.” And it was per­haps eas­ier to mock when the team was los­ing 100 games a year. But at this point, only a cynic with a frozen heart would ar­gue that the Pres­i­dents have been any­thing but a suc­cess. Their smil­ing mugs rep­re­sent the team at civic and com­mer­cial events all over the area. They’re on tele­vi­sion, on T-shirts and on “Sports Cen­ter” com­mer­cials. And when they stand in the cen­ter field plaza or wan­der the con­course, they’re mobbed.

Most im­por­tantly, kids love them. They’re a le­git­i­mate rea­son to at­tend a game for a kid who might be in­clined not to care.

Sure, some of you could ar­gue that the Red­skins have a poor home-field ad­van­tage and that the so­lu­tion is not to court more chil­dren. I would dis­agree. As the ra­tio of loud and an­gry­ish non-chil­dren fans has seemed to grow in re­cent years, the home record has not im­proved; Wash­ing­ton is 21-35 at FedEx Field since Joe Gibbs re­tired. At­tract­ing more kids is un­likely to make that record worse. 5) Metro trans­porta­tion Again, the cur­rent Red­skins aren’t re­spon­si­ble for the lo­ca­tion of FedEx Field, and they can’t pos­si­bly repli­cate the easy Metro ac­cess of Na­tion­als Park. But the walk from Metro to FedEx Field could not be more drea­rily dif­fer­ent than the walk from Metro to Na­tion­als Park: There is noth­ing to look at save town­homes and ven­dors sell­ing boot­leg beers and Jell-o shots. If it’s hot, you sweat. If it rains, you get wet.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The re­mote lo­ca­tion, drab food op­tions and lack of imag­i­na­tive giveaways and pro­mo­tions com­bine to deny any real pizzazz to a day at FedEx Field.

MARVIN JOSEPH / THE WASH­ING­TON POST Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/ dc­sports­bog

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