Photo courtesy of Eric London
A large group of Phillies fans waits to enter Nationals Park on Monday.
I know there is much disgust around NatsTown this morning over just about every aspect of yesterday's opener, from the actual result on the field (an embarrassing, 11-1 loss to the Phillies) to the President pulling a White Sox cap out of his pocket to the invasion of fans from up I-95 who turned Nationals Park into Citizens Bank Park.
It seems that final point has been most upsetting to local fans who were aghast to walk into their home ballpark and feel like they were outnumbered by the opposition. On Opening Day, nonetheless.
So what happened? How did so many Phillies fans manage to squeeze their way in while many Nationals fans were shut out. Individual-game tickets went on sale March 2, and according to the club, it only took seven minutes for most to sell out. Did that many people from Philadelphia get on the phone in those seven minutes and gobble up all the available seats?
The best explanation appears to be that many of those visiting fans bought tickets through group sales, well in advance of March 2.
Different types of tickets are sold at different points in the calendar year. Season ticket packages go on sale before the previous season ends. Group packages also become available during the offseason.
"Both season tickets are sold, and groups are booked, all through the winter, for every game," Nationals president Stan Kasten said via email this morning. "All of this is before any individual game tickets go on sale."
It appears at least one organization in Philadelphia figured this out and took advantage of the opportunity to buy tickets in bulk long before they were on sale to individuals. A website called Phillytailgate.com, founded by a Philadelphia sports fan who wanted to organize large outings with other fans, bought a huge block of seats over the winter and then offered $109 ticket packages that included bus transportation from Philadelphia, unlimited food and beverages and a tailgate outside Nationals Park featuring a DJ, a string band and parade.
According to Philadelphia television station KYW, about 1,500 fans boarded more than 20 buses yesterday morning near Citizens Bank Park and made the trip down to Washington for the game.
Obviously, there were far more than 1,500 Phillies fans in attendance, so this one outing didn't account for the entire invasion. But it would appear plenty of other fans in Philadelphia got together and purchased group packages (minimum 25 seats) over the winter once they became available.
Some pro sports franchises have attempted before to restrict fans from opposing cities buying up tickets in bulk. The Capitals, most notably, have tried to keep Penguins fans from taking over Verizon Center by preventing phone sales that come from the Pittsburgh area code.
Asked if the Nationals discussed a similar attempt to restrict Philadelphia fans from buying seats to yesterday's game, Kasten wrote: "We tried to limit it, but not cut it off completely."
It should be noted that all those group packages purchased by Phillies fans were available to fans from Washington or any other city who wished to attend yesterday's game, or any other game this season.
In other words: If you want to avoid a similar scene next year, start organizing your Opening Day 2011 ticket purchasing groups ASAP.