Kids Eat Free: Why the Nationals Are Focused on Younger Fans

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Kids Eat Free
Photo Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

For many families, while there’s nothing quite like an outing to a baseball game, the cost of attending a game with young children adds up quickly. The Washington Nationals are hoping to attract more with the organization’s newest promotion. 

Washington will run a Kids Eat Free at Nationals Park program from July 22 to Labor Day, offering up a hot dog, choice of chips or apple sauce and a soda or water to members of its Jr. Nationals Kids Club. There are more than 2,000 members in the 12-and-under program, according to Jake Burns, Nationals EVP of business operations. Burns said 80% of ticket holders come with a family member. 

“We’re trying to find ways to make our experience as family-friendly as possible,” Burns said. “This idea was borne out of brainstorming of things we could do to get families in the door or provide a better experience to existing families, and we found a way to attract new fans to the ballpark and strengthen the relationship with those existing fans.” 

The Jr. Nationals Kids Club has two levels of membership, a $20 “MVP” membership which includes multiple perks such as opportunities to participate in pregame ceremonies and swag, while the free “rookie” membership allows for special meet and greet opportunities. All members can get buy-one-get-one-free tickets to home games, a tour of Nationals Park and can participate in a post-game run-on-the-bases following Sunday home games. 

Now once registered, they can receive a free meal at games. The vouchers will be available on the program’s mobile platform. 

There’s no expected goal for the program, but Burns hopes it generates interest and helps differentiate the family experience from other competing attractions. In Minor League Baseball, promotions range from a benefit of a Kids Club membership to designated Kids Eat Free days.

The Nationals have rolled out a bevy of special events to bring in new fans this season, such as  “Scotch and Baseball” on July 22. 

Despite an overall attendance drop, MLB ticket revenue is expected to increase this season. Washington hosted last year’s All-Star Game, so there was a bit of an expected attendance lull, still, Burns said the attendance has been solid considering the circumstances. The Nationals are averaging 27,945 fans through 46 games at home games this season, down from last year’s full-season average of 31,620. 

While the Nationals program will be the first long-running Kids Eat Free promotion at the Major League level, plenty of Minor League Baseball teams have run similar promotions — as have the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. 

Whether it’s “Kids Eat Free Monday” at a Brooklyn Cyclones game or the Indianapolis Indians’ “Kids Eat Free Sunday,” the programs are largely meant to attract more families, said Courtney Nehls, MiLB assistant director of community engagement.

Indians President and General Manager Randy Lewandowski echoed Nehls’ sentiments as he talked about his organization’s promotion, which has been running for seven seasons. Lewandowski said a normal Sunday will see between 1,000 and 1,500 tickets redeemed for a free kids meal. 

“It’s really to make Sunday a family day,” he said. “We had done a few things specifically for our kids club, but we wanted to broaden the reach and drive attendance.” 

He added it has turned into a normal daily special, like the dollar menu the Indians’ offer on Mondays. Occasionally daily promotions intersect other special promotions, like this season’s Easter Sunday Easter Egg Hunt. Those promotions, at least in part, are what Lewandowski credits helping make Indianapolis a regular atop the Minor League attendance charts year-in and year-out.

“Promotions are a big part of what we do, as is the mix of community,” he said. “It’s what we put into our magic hat.”

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Lewandowski said baseball, and sports as a whole, is an imitation game when it comes to promotions and that baseball, especially, lends itself to a Kids Eat Free promotion.

For the Nationals, bringing in a younger fanbase and building those future diehards is an important aspect of the new program. The past few years have seen investment at Nationals Park in renovating the ballpark’s PenFed Kids Fun Zone and concentrating on special kids giveaways. The team also provides area Little Leagues with Nationals jerseys and hats in different colors, hoping to generate a camaraderie of fandom within area players. 

“Our young fanbase is incredibly important and we need to foster it,” Burns said. “It’s a great way to create meaningful engagement with kids.”