Baseball, Beer, and Math

Despite numerous injuries to position players, starting pitchers, and relievers, my Washington Nationals are hanging around the top of a greatly revived National League East. However, that does not mean all is well in the Nation’s Capital, as my letter below to Maurice Ruffin, the Director of Guest Experience for the Nats, will demonstrate. Whether they respond or not any day that I can bring beer, baseball, and math together is a damn good day!

Hi Maurice,

I’m writing to you because you have the enviable title of Director of Guest Experience for the Washington Nationals and this email is all about the experience of this very loyal guest and many others like him. I have been an avid baseball fan for 50 years, an avid beer drinker for 40 years, an avid Nats fan for 14 years, and a full-plan season ticket holder for all of those 14 years. I have had few or no complaints about the Nats other than perhaps Matt Williams’ horrid decision to pull JZimm in game 2 of the division series in 2014 in favor of Drew Storen. However, I am moved to write to you now becuase you have so totally botched the delivery of the second most important item in the ballpark (baseball being the first). Namely: beer. As a Coors Light aficionado, I was devastated when you did the deal with A-B, thus filling the ballpark with that swill known as Bud Light in lieu of the cool mountain water in Coors Light. But, hey, I get it. That’s business. I’ll live.

But, now the big screw up is in the options for the vessel in which that swill is delivered. Currently, the smallest can of beer in the ballpark is 25 ounces. Let’s do some quick math, in which I will refer to “one beer” as a standard 12 oz beer. I would estimate that the average beer drinking fan drinks 4-6 beers per game (you may have actual data on this; feel free to share and perhaps we can refine the math on a conference call). Let’s call it five 12 oz beers per game per beer drinking fan. According to SI, the average length of an MLB game is 3 hrs and 5 min. Let’s call it 3 hours to keep the math simple. That’s 180 min. Thus, 5 beers over 180 min suggests a drinking pace of one beer every 36 min. It turns out that back in the 1980s, I got bachelor and PhD degrees in chemical engineering and my PhD thesis was in heat transfer. Unfortunately, it’s been a very long time since I used that knowledge and I remember none of so I’m unable to actually use it to calculate how long it takes for a beer to get warm, but I thought I might impress you with it anyway. I digress. I think we can all agree, even without fancy engineering degrees that the absolute maximum amount of time a beer can remain cold off ice on a hot summer day is about 30 min.

Wait, hold the phone, that works perfectly for a 12 oz beer, which our calculations show is just about the amount of time the average fan takes to drink the average 12 oz beer. Perhaps the last swig of backwash is a tad warm at minute 29, but for the most part you’ll enjoy a nice cold malted beverage (hopefully while watching Max strike out another 5 hitters). But, if you double the size of the beer, you at least double the time for consumption. I might argue you more than double the consumption time because my average consumption time of 30 min assumes some time in between beers to belch and pee. If you try to cram two beers into one can, as the Nats have so ineloquently done, I think you may push the average consumption time per 12 oz unit even higher. But, giving you the benefit of the doubt, let’s call it 30 min per 12 oz, or 60 minutes to finish a 25 oz beer (rounding off again in your favor). Now, here we really don’t need math or any knowledge whatsoever of the heat capacity of beer (represented by the Greek letter rho, if I remember my engineering formulas). Indeed, all we need is common sense. If I poll a random 10 guys with beer guts whether a beer will remain cold for an hour in 85 degree temps, I will get 10 (beer) belly laughs.

So, as you can see by this very simple mathematical and engineering analysis, the numbers on the beer delivery at Nats park simply don’t add up. You are ensuring that you have a ballpark filled with people drinking warm beer for roughly 50% of the game. And, while I once heard the adage that “warm beer is better than nothing and nothing is better than God, therefore warm beer is better than God,” I’m really not buying it. Rather, I think you have a ballpark filled 50% with people having a bad “guest experience.” Imagine if you invited 20 guests to your house for dinner and handed 10 of them a nice cold beer and 10 of them a warm beer you left sitting out on your deck for an hour. I would submit to you that the latter 10 will not be happy guests. So, why would you, as the Grand Poobah of Nationals Guest Experience inflict that type of inhumane pain on your guests at the ballpark.

I am available to speak by phone any time or, alternatively, I’d be happy to meet in person to discuss. But, if we meet in person, I will expect a cold beer at the meeting.


Bruce Robertson
Nationals Season Ticket Holder


About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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One Response to Baseball, Beer, and Math

  1. Bill says:

    I also went to a MLB ballpark just last night and was wondering why the beers are so big–my 24 ounce beer was not even refrigerator cold when they gave it to me but that was not the only issue. I was thinking about the number of beers I was going to drink with only two purchases. With just two (and I guess it saves me time), I was at 4 beers in 3 hours. That’s a lot of beer with my car parked in the nearby parking lot. I think the answer is size options for both problems. Fast drinkers with designated drivers can go BIG and the slow drinkers with cars (aka the old guys) can go small. BTW Bruce, I think Gary Loveman, our Service Management prof at HBS and longtime CEO of Harrah’s, would be proud of your letter to the “Director of Guest Experience”.

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