The Washington Nationals celebrated Memorial Day by crushing the Houston Astros 14-4, but that was only an appetizer to the main course. After the game, the team announced that Stephen Strasburg would be making his major league debut on Tuesday, June 8.
Speculation about Strasburg’s eventual debut has made the Nationals one of baseball’s hottest tickets on StubHub, the league’s official secondary market. For the June 8 game, StubHub currently lists 2,580 available tickets at a minimum cost of $65.50, including over 175 tickets priced at $500 or more. For comparison, the site lists 750 available tickets for the team’s next Tuesday home game (June 22, which was well outside the window of Strasburg speculation). The minimum price for that date is $8.50 per ticket; only eight seats are listed at over $500.
Fans hoping to see Strasburg throw his first pitch in the majors will have to pay those inflated prices because the Nationals’ website indicates that tickets for the game are no longer available for purchase. Unless the official announcement sparked an immediate rush to purchase the remaining inventory, you can bet the Nationals are holding some aside to include in partial season packages.
Through Sunday’s games, the Nationals ranked 14th in average attendance at 20,760 fans per game. The addition of Strasburg to the roster should help boost that total considerably, especially every fifth day. Perhaps not coincidentally, Strasburg is on track to start five of his first seven games at home, which could have a meaningful impact on both the Nationals’ position in the standings and their bottom line.
In addition to boosting the gate when he pitches, the addition of Strasburg has the potential to make the Nationals a legitimate playoff contender. At 26-26, the team is still alive in both the NL East and wildcard races, so the addition of an ace starter could keep them in contention throughout the summer. If that comes to fruition, the Nationals should enjoy an attendance increase for all games, not just the ones in which Strasburg pitches.
Of course, Strasburg still has to prove himself in the majors, and the added pressure of being a center stage attraction will only make his transition more difficult. As one of the most heralded young pitchers in the history of the game, Strasburg will face incredibly high expectations. The future of a franchise could very well be resting on his talented right arm, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Of even more interest will be how the Nationals handle their talented young star. So far, financial concerns have played a significant role in Strasburg’s path to the major leagues, so it remains to be seen if such motives will continue to guide the team. If he struggles, or the Nats fall out of contention early, will the team keep him going every fifth day to boost attendance and ratings? Or, will they make each decision with long-term interests in mind? Considering the total investment involved, the answer is probably a no-brainer (or at least it should be), but when money is involved, and lots of it, nothing is ever so cut and dry.