- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Major League Baseball teams have been in a precarious position since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The 2020 season was shortened to just 60 games, while parts of 2021 were also marred by different waves of the virus, mask mandates and other policies. Attendance numbers, obviously, took a hit as a result. 

For the Nationals, and the rest of the league, the 2022 campaign offers a new beginning — a potential post-pandemic world for big-league ballparks. As Washington prepares for the season, which is scheduled to begin Thursday against the New York Mets, the club is making a push for Nationals Park to be one of the most technologically advanced venues in the sport.

“The fan experience here is super important to us, and we’re taking the approach to use technology and innovation to empower that,” said Mike Carney, the Nationals’ executive vice president for business strategy and operations. 

The Nationals unveiled their new offerings during a ballpark tour on Wednesday, showing off everything from the new BetMGM Sportsbook to club spaces to food offerings to the sleek cherry-blossom-themed apparel in the team shop. But one theme pervaded through the tour — the Nationals are going all-in on technology. 

Gone are the days of pulling out cash to get a dog and a beer. Heck, you may not even have to get out of your seat to purchase merchandise. 

The Nationals are growing their cashless payment options from last season as well as enhancing mobile ordering. In fact, fans can even place orders for jerseys or hats using the MLB Ballpark App and have the merchandise delivered to their seats.

The focus on technology, Carney said, is aimed at fixing the ballpark’s “long line problem” — an issue inside many MLB stadiums. With a max occupancy of more than 40,000, lines are inevitable. But with mobile ordering and new concessions kiosks, the team hopes fans can use the seventh-inning stretch to get some ice cream without missing the bottom frame. 

“For a full house like opening day is, we have 40,000 fans here, and we want to deliver to all 40,000 fans,” Carney said. “A lot of times, if you’ve been to a ballpark, even at Nationals Park, there are long lines — for ice cream, for beer. We’ve really been trying to solve the long-line problem. The best way to solve that is technology.”

Jonathan Stahl, the team’s vice president for experience and hospitality, said 40% of food orders last season were placed on phones and that Nationals Park ranked first in MLB in mobile ordering. 

But what about the team’s older fans, especially the ones who aren’t as adept at using technology? 

“You can’t just deploy technology for the sake of technology. The best way to get adoption for your fans is to meet them where they are,” Carney said. “We have a big staff here to help people out to understand the technology if there are confusion points.”

More proof the team is hyper-focused on being high-tech can be found in the two new club spaces for the wealthiest Nationals fans. Both spaces are sponsored by companies that describe themselves as futuristic. One is cryptocurrency exchange Terra — sponsor of The Terra Club, an expensive, luxury space that is replacing The Nationals Club — which is hoping its crypto can be used as payment at the park starting in 2023. The other is technology payment provider FIS — home to the FIS Champions Club, an 18,000 square foot venue that is dedicated to the team’s 2019 championship team. 

Another thing Nationals fans will be able to do from their phones at the park is place bets on the BetMGM Sportsbook app. The BetMGM location next to the center field gate is the first active retail sportsbook connected to an MLB stadium. While fans can’t leave the park to place bets inside the location during the game, they can stop in to wager prior to heading inside the stadium or bet from their phones. 

“We’re happy to make history here at Nationals Park,” said Chris Gumiela, BetMGM’s vice president of marketing. “We’re really excited to be a part of this.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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