Nationals Baseball: Quick thoughts on attendance

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Quick thoughts on attendance

I didn't really care to talk about attendance (despite the fact that I really am fascinated by it) but the comments I see out there seem pretty one sided to me.  Cransick insinuating it's terrible, Boz backing the side of it's fine. So I figured the souless automaton should weight in and see what he sees (and hopefully never speak of it again.)

I recently tweeted (harpergordek, if you must know) that you only need to know 7 words about this.  Still Bad. Getting Better.  Judge Next Year.  I stand by that, so if you want to skip the rest of the column go right ahead.  See you tomorrow.  If you are interested in this stuff like I am though - here's a bit more.

Still bad

DC is a Top 10 metro area in the US.  The attendance should reflect that but it does not. They are 13th in NL in attendance per game.  We can talk about other draws and weekend games and weather but the bottom line is - that's not good enough, not for a city this size. 

This isn't anything new.  The Nats have had bad attendance since their 2nd year. At first people put a fair amount of blame on RFK. However, when Nationals Park opened I did a lot of attendance comparisons between DC and other cities that opened new parks and in every way the Nationals fell short.  Was it the economy? The lack of baseball history? The terrible play? Something inherent to DC?  Yes. Yes. Yes. I don't know.

To me the why isn't nearly as important as the what. What low attendance does is make management reluctant to spend money.  Why invest if there is no return? Attendance needs to improve. And it is.

Getting better

After the little park bump year of 2008, the Nats attendance was dismal. 22.4 K a game in 2009, 22.5 K in 2010.  Well no duh. They won 59 games in '08 & '09 and 69 in '10.  But in 2011 they won 80 games.  The attendance went up.  Sure it was only 24.3 thousand a game but when half the league is losing paying customers moving up a couple thousand a game is a nice bump.

This year it looks even better the Nats are up more than 3K a game in comparison to last year at this time (don't buy 5K a game figure - it includes a rainout forced DH 0 attendance game 1)  Last year they faced the Braves, Phillies, Brewers and Mets at home to start.  This year it has been the Reds, Astros, Marlins, and Diamondbacks. The weather has been nicer I think, but again let's not let the look for the why overshadow the what.  Attendance is trending in the right direction.  Management is seeing that winning draws more fans. It seems obvious but sometimes even the obvious things have to be spelled out to people.

Judge next year

Attendance has a delayed effect.  Good teams don't necessarily draw squat as soon as they're bad, and vice versa.  Prove to me you're good and I'll come.  Show me you're bad and I'll stay home.

Last year was the first year the Nats have been any good since 2005. They should see a good percentage raise in attendance this year (as they have so far). Given where they started from though, it probably won't be enough to get the Nats in the upper regions of attendance. They should be in the middle of the pack and next year they will have had two straight years of decent play and maybe a playoff appearance, almost certainly a playoff race. They should jump up in 2013 to something more in line with where they should be.  If NEXT YEAR the Nats can't draw anyone, with a 3rd straight year of good play and entering their 9th year of baseball in the district, well then fine, go ahead and start to look for things thar are wrong if it makes you happy.

(of course none of this really matters - the team isn't going anywhere anytime in the near or even not so near future.  The lease binds them here and more importantly Major League Baseball wants them here.  There will be no Minnesota or Texas redux)


Kenny B. said...

I'm not worried about attendance. This is a town that loves a winner (and, inexplicably, the Redskins). Just look at the Caps. A couple of good seasons and playoff appearances, an improved array of things to do near the park, and the Nats will bethe new Caps in a few years.

Lee said...

Speaking of the Caps...

They are still in the playoffs and drawing butts. That could be having an effect on numbers thus far. I know I scored Diamond Club Seats on the 19th for $40 apiece on stubhub. That doesn't happen unless there are highly desireable seats elsewhere. That happened to be game 4 at the Verizon Center and a horrible draw (and night) for the Nats.

I agree there is a lagging effect on response to a winning team. Talk to the average Washingtonian last year and their consensus about the Nats would likely have been that they stink. Always have. Always will. It takes a while to lose that stench. People should come around with time. Case in point, is $5 worth watching the Wizards? Can you name someone on the team other than Wall? Probably not. Lose and you fall off the radar.

Lastly, I've often felt there is something uniquely DC about lagging attendance. Many people here are transplants. I for one grew up a Braves fan from Tennessee and became a season ticket holder merely for love of baseball. A funny thing happened along the way though...I became a Nats fan without reservation. Even when the Braves are in town. The Braves were a selection of proximity (and winning the 90s). If more folks have similar conversions - and this could also come from winning - they will attend more games when their team is in town. You know...those 81 times out of the year instead of the 3-4 games someone's hometown team may be in town.

Donald said...

While intellectually I want to see attendance rise to they'll spend more money, I live a few miles from the park and LOVE being able to metro down there on a whim to see a game. I even got tickets to Friday's game against the Phillies with Strasburg pitching just 2 days ago. If they start selling out the park, it'll be a lot harder to get to games.

Also, I'm not sure how much of a factor it is, but they are just now making the meaningful improvements to that neighborhood. That's not a big draw for me since I pretty much just want to go into the stadium when I get there, but it might for some others.

Anonymous said...

You wont see the attendance pick up until the Caps playoffs are over.

Mike said...

The most well-reasoned writing i've seen about this issue. Thanks Harper.

Ben said...

I'll take the name another Wizard bet ... I present Nene Hilario:

Just look how happy he is that the Nats are winning

More to the topic, I wonder how much "value" I add if I watch all 162 games on MASN vs. buying season tickets, am I 1% as valuable? Do 100 religious Nats viewers = 1 season ticket holder? 500?. I think growth in tv viewership would probably be a decent leading indicator for attendance ... though after 10 minutes of the google I can't find any good numbers, just articles saying its up.

Froggy said...

I agree with the Caps playoff theory. But having endured two years living at 1st and M st and being a season ticket holder I can say once the neighborhood develops (and yes, the Nats keep winning) attendance will go up. Once the word spreads that there are cool places to go before and after a game blah, blah...other than Justin's Cafe, there isn't squat.

Also, I think attendance will go up once summer fully arrives and the Nats keep winning of course!

Kenny B. said...

Funny, I too was a 90s Braves fan (from North Carolina) who lost interest in baseball following the strike and rediscovered it with the Nats upon moving to DC. And I know a lot of fans of AL teams who are transplanted here and have adopted the Nats. They have kids, and their kids will be die hard Nats fans. Like I said, I don't worry about attendance.

And while I'm psyched for the Caps, they are trying to ruin my unnecessary prediction that the Nats, not the Caps, will be the next championship team in DC.

Angels12 said...

Coming from Southern Cal, I use to see waaaay more Yankee and Red Sox caps at ballgames at the Big A as a kid.....So Cal in those years was just as migratory as DC is now IMHO.....winning changes everything. I will agree however that weather plays a part here, it's just not the same having to bundle up in late April....I go to more Nats games when the weather warms up