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.
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.
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 BR.com 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)