Seeking a better FedEx experience
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.
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.