Before he stepped on the mound, Stephen Strasburg’s brand soared to unprecedented levels. A sell-out crowd came from all over the region to see a young, laid-back pitcher from California perform before a national, if not global, audience.
Around the country, baseball fans tuned in to see if Strasburg could live up to the hype. Heavy praise from scouts, baseball experts and the media led to intense curiosity about the pitcher and his unfathomable arsenal of pitches.
It was an important moment and everybody wanted to be part of the story, especially those people who have been Nationals fans since 2005. Despite the frenzy, Nationals Chief Operating Officer Andy Feffer explained that the Nationals want to use Strasburg as part of a larger narrative about the team -- a young team full of exciting prospects, young stars and veteran leaders.
“Stephen Strasburg is one chapter in a broader story about the Nationals,” Feffer said on Tuesday. “There’s a whole host of young talent [here] and the fruition of that talent is embodied in Strasburg coming. [There is] excitement that something is going on here from an historical perspective. The reason why people are coming is they want to be part of the journey.”
And that’s true to some degree. After all, Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman provided the offense necessary to give the rookie his first win. And without Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps tossing two scoreless innings, the game certainly could have gone a different way. But it didn’t. The Nationals, led by Strasburg, are now a team to watch.
“It’s many, many pieces, but I can’t lie to you. This is an awfully big one,” said Nationals president Stan Kasten.
Strasburg is something unique, special and even unprecedented. And he might just be paying for himself.
“We have an extraordinary draft pick like Stephen, that can bring a marquee, a branding value, a rights value, media, he can sell tickets, he can do all those things prior to performance,” said agent Scott Boras. “We have to put in the evaluation a fairness about what these players mean to a franchise...The draft, now, is distinguished in my mind where a player, prior to performance, has added dramatic value to a franchise.”
The Nationals sold out Tuesday’s game in a matter of minutes. Ticket prices sky-rocketed on sites like StubHub. The Nationals even introduced, for the first time ever, individual tickets to enjoy the game from a suite and a limited number of standing room only tickets.
“It speaks to the interest levels locally and nationally in seeing this guy in person,” Feffer continued.
Those that couldn’t get their hands on tickets watched at home and earned MASN the highest ratings ever for a Nationals telecast in Washington. In fact, they more than tripled MASN’s highest ratings in the market. Roughly 165,000 households tuned in to watch the game, which put Strasburg’s debut just behind the NBA Finals and the season finale of Glee.
“For a Tuesday night in June against the Pirates, these ratings are simply stunning,” said MASN spokesman Todd Webster.
The Nationals will benefit from Strasburg hype throughout the season with potential sell-outs, concession and merchandise sales and even new-found brand loyalty. During the Strsaburg debut, the Nats tried a new approach. They invited those holding ticket stubs from Strasburg’s debut to return on Wednesday or Thursday for 37% off the box office price of tickets.
How they manage to get fans into the ballpark on non-Strasburg days will be interesting to watch, but as interest in the team grows in a general sense so to should attendance, merchandise sales and ratings.
On Sunday, Strasmania will roll into Progressive Field in Cleveland where Manny Acta’s Indians will face the phenom. TBS has reportedly already bumped the Phillies vs. Red Sox game to pick up the Nationals vs. Indians game. The scheduled start has the Indians already projected to increase ticket and concession sales, but it will be telling to see how the hype and brand identity translates on the road. The game will be on MASN2, MASN2 HD and DC50 locally beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Nats Xtra.