The Washington Nationals will be making their first ever playoff appearance this October. Home attendance at those games may become a topic of discussion.
The Nationals have only been in Washington since 2005. In that time they have had to build a fan base from folks who had gone without major league baseball since 1971 when the Senators moved and became the Texas Rangers. For 34 years most of those that still followed the game had become loyal rooters of the Baltimore Orioles. With D.C. being a transient city others who lived there rooted for the teams of their former cities.
In the years without baseball the D.C. sports landscape changed. Fan interest turned mainly to the NFL Washington Redskins. They have sold out every home game since 1968. In 1973 the Washington Wizards (formerly the Bullets) of the NBA came from Baltimore. In 1974 the Washington Capitals joined the NHL.
When the Nationals arrived they had to prove worthy of spending money on. Though most of Washington was happy to finally have major league baseball back, they were not going to give up attending football, basketball and hockey to see them. The Nationals came in at a time when the Capitals were a perennial playoff team, the Wizards were actually winning and the Redskins were one year into the second term of head coach Joe Gibbs.
Slowly the team’s attendance numbers have increased. In 2012 they have had 2.2 million fans come through the turnstiles for an average of close to 30,000 per game. This ranks them fourteenth on average among MLB teams. The glory days of regular baseball sellouts are pretty much over so Washington is doing well by present standards.
When the Nationals get into October, they will be competing during the middle of the Redskins season, the beginning of the Wizards and if there is an NHL season the start of the Capitals campaign. This means that fans that have season tickets to the latter three may not be up to buying tickets for the Nationals. But Washington likes winners just like every other city so this shouldn’t be a problem.
What may be a problem are the Orioles. They are located 40 miles north, have an established fan base and headed to the post season as well. If Baltimore and Washington are playing at home on the same days how will the attendance be divided? Will those who grew up on the Orioles follow them? Are there just not enough fans to fill both stadiums? Will people decide to stay at home in order to watch both teams on television?
It is an interesting situation. After 79 years without post season baseball and a 34 year stretch without a team Washington finally has baseball worthy of attendance. Geography, economics and a still growing fan base may stop them from selling out Nats Park.
Let’s hope this is not the case. Let’s hope the fans give the Nationals the support they have tried so hard to earn.