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Strasburg Spurs Profit Motive Even Before First Pitch in Majors

Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Altoona Curve in his minor league debut in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Altoona Curve in his minor league debut in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

June 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Major League Baseball debut of No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg has at least one Washington Nationals fan dreaming of a mythical pitcher with a 100 mile-an-hour fastball who can single-handedly win games.

“I am fully expecting this to be the first genuine coming of Sidd Finch,” said Seth Waxman, an attorney at WilmerHale in Washington, who has season tickets near the first-base side on-deck circle.

Others see the first big-league game pitched by Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 amateur baseball draft who signed a four-year contract for a record $15 million, as an opportunity to make a profit on their investment, with some season-ticket owners offering seats at six times face value. The Nationals may hit a million-dollar jackpot of ticket and merchandise sales as well, according to Bill Sutton, a former vice president of team marketing for the National Basketball Association.

“This is like going to a concert to see the Rolling Stones,” said Sutton, 59, principal of Bill Sutton & Associates, a marketing consulting company in Orlando, Florida. “You want to see the concert because you’ve heard so much about Mick Jagger.”

Strasburg, 21, is scheduled to start tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park, just south of Capitol Hill. A sellout of 41,888 is expected -- the first at home since opening day for the Nationals, who are 27-31 and in last place in the National League East.

The rookie was a combined 7-2 with a 1.30 earned run average and 65 strikeouts for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He started the season in the minor leagues to get some professional experience, which might also have saved the team millions by reducing his major-league service time and delaying the start of salary arbitration.

Keeping Perspective

Andy Feffer, the team’s chief operating officer, said while Strasburg’s arrival is a boon, the team doesn’t want to build a marketing campaign around one player. Rather the team wants to sell the idea that the franchise is improving as a whole, while focusing on young players such as Strasburg and All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

“Stephen Strasburg is only a chapter in a much broader story,” Feffer said. “There are a number of young, talented players built around energy and enthusiasm. That story has been developing before Stephen ever arrived.”

A Fans Right to Dream

Waxman, who plans on attending the game, said he knows Strasburg never will match the legend of Finch, a fictional pitcher for the New York Mets whom writer George Plimpton created for an April Fool’s Day gag in Sports Illustrated in 1985. The mystical hurler pitched with one bare foot and the other in a boot, and his fastball reached 168 miles an hour.

“OK, realistically, he’s a human being, and we’ll have to wait and see how he does under the competition of the majors,” said Waxman, 58. “But he throws a 98 mile-an-hour fastball, and that’s the same in Washington as it is in Harrisburg.”

StubHub, an Internet site where ticketholders can resell their seats, listed 3,858 tickets for the game that were on the secondary market on June 2, the morning after the Nationals announced the schedule for Strasburg’s first start.

Tickets in left field with a face value of $20 were being offered for $228, while seats behind home plate with a $325 face value were for sale for $1,000.

‘Rock Star’ Pitching

By yesterday, ticket prices had fallen. There were 3,517 tickets available for sale at 10 a.m. with seats in the leftfield corner offered at their $36 face value, and $85 tickets near home plate being offered for $150.

“So you have a rock star pitching, and if he pitches a great game, everybody comes back and the demand for Game 2 will be even higher because now there is something to this story,” Sutton said.

With an average ticket price of $30.63, according to Wilmette, Illinois-based Team Marketing Report, and the Nationals drawing 20,760 fans a game this season, a sellout could increase the team’s ticket revenue by as much as $647,151 each time Strasburg pitches.

Executive Chef Terry Louzon, 48, who oversees all the concessions at Nationals Park for Chicago-based Levy Restaurants said he sells between 6,000 and 8,000 hot dogs on an ordinary night. Tuesday he is expecting to move about 18,000.

He said the company is also doubling its concessions workers to about 300 and calling in an additional two dozen managers.

“We’re excited about it, no doubt,” Louzon said in an interview. “We hope this happens every five days he pitches. This is the kind of stuff we get up for.”

Record Contract

Strasburg, who went to San Diego State, signed a contract in August that eclipsed the amateur-record $10.5 million Mark Prior received from the Chicago Cubs in 2001.

During a press conference following his final minor-league outing June 3, Strasburg was asked if he felt ready for the major leagues.

“It’s been a pretty big adjustment from college,” he said. “There’s a lot more that goes along with playing professional baseball and being in the position I’m in. It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited to start learning up in the big leagues.”

Competing with Redskins

The Nationals, who also had the No. 1 pick in last night’s draft, are looking for a player to help boost them in a region where the football Redskins and hockey Capitals are bigger sports draws. The franchise never has had a winning season since transferring to Washington from Montreal in 2005 and finished last season with the worst record in baseball at 59-103.

“This kid has a once-in-a-generation arm,” said former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Rob Dibble, 46, now a color analyst for Nationals telecasts for MASN, the local regional sports network, and host of “First Pitch” on Sirius XM Radio Inc. “If he is half as good as what everybody says he is and he can throw strikes with 3-4 different pitches and go through the lineup 3-4 times, he may make kids want to play baseball in this country again.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at

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