Nationals Baseball: Shhh! Don't wake up Baltimore/DC!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Shhh! Don't wake up Baltimore/DC!

I love talking about attendance. No really, I do. It the kind of tangental topic that can be bandied about easily between opposing parties because honestly - we don't know why things are the way they are and there are a lot of facts that can be thrown around without exactly knowing the magnitude of their effect.  Schools still in!  Weather!  Economy!

Boz tackles the current strong attendance of Baltimore and DC in a weird way. He gloats. He compares this area to other areas with two teams that currently have lower attendance figures. (Unfairly, I might add since those areas have a total of 0 winning teams. Then he excuses the fact that SF/Oak outdraws DC/Balt by saying those teams are powerhouses but (1) No SF isn't (2) Oakland has a notoriously awful stadium.)  He says MLB told him baseball wouldn't work here. He acts like he was the only one who said baseball wouldn't work in Florida (If I recall correctly that was an idea held by roughly 132% of all people)

Is he right?  Is the DC/Baltimore area a sleeping giant when it comes to baseball?

The easy thing to say, and something generally verified by looking at attendance figures is that attendance follows record.  You win you draw fans. You lose you don't. The effect is somewhat staggered, which is why a 98 win Nats team, after a long stretch of bad baseball, couldn't break the top half of the NL in attendance, and a 73 win Phillies team, after a long stretch of good baseball, can be 4th. You also need consistency - one good season followed by a downturn (or vice versa) will simply dent attendance trends. The Nats and O's are working on their 3rd seasons of above .500 ball and both are fighting for 1st place in their division.  Logic tells you fans will come to see that.

So the area is normal, right? Well Boz sets his own "this is when attendance goes up" rules which make the area look as good as he can make it. He states that winning a playoff series drives attendance up. Since the Nats and O's haven't done that - their rise in attendance is more impressive. This is a harder thing to prove.  What team has three years of good baseball and fails to win a series? But baseball has a lot of teams and a long history so let's see what we can find relatively recently.

2006-2008 Blue Jays : The Blue Jays led the league in attendance in the early 90s then the Jays slowly fell to mediocrity with average years puncutated by decent ones and poor ones. After a low point of 67 wins they bottomed out at 11th in 2005, despite a record near .500. From 2006-2008 the Blue Jays put up 3 consecutive 83+ win seasons without making the playoffs. Attendance by the last season? 6th.

2000-2004 White Sox : Prior to winning it all in 2005 the White Sox put up 4 consecutive winning seasons (well non-losing seasons - there's an 81-81 in there). The attendance in '99 was 13th. In 2004 was 8th. It's a bumpy rise because the Sox' best year was 2000 but it's a rise.

1999-2001 A's : The mid 90s A's were bad after dominating the late 80s time frame. By 1999 though they were back in business. They won 87, 91, 102 games and the attendance increased from 13th in 1998 to 7th in 2001.
2009-2011 Braves : But the Braves were always good! Nope. After losing 4 consecutive DSs the Braves missed the playoffs from 2006-2009, so by the time they put up these three winning years it had been almost a decade since they won a series. Far enough away? I think so. Anyway. 2008 10th. 2011 8th. (the Braves actually haven't drawn well since the newness of Turner Field wore off)

1997-1999 Mets : Mets really bottomed out from late 80s success and... I'm getting tired, let's wrap this up. 1996 12th (out of 14) 1999 7th.

That's about all I could find. I skipped a couple teams who might be draws in of themselves regardless of record and a couple other teams might have qualified but the time frame overlapped with a new stadium being introduced making attendance figures fuzzy to interpret. It's actually kind of rare to put up three above .500 seasons in a row and not win a series in the first two years, at least since the WC was introduced. Looking at the small data we see here - we see that DC/Balt is not special*. When you win consistently, division series win or not, attendance goes up.

(*In fact I think a stronger case could be made that DC is actually still kind of disappointing, given the quality of the team and the population to draw from. But I say give the fanbase another 10 years to build before judging them as if they are on an even playing field)


Donald said...

There were a LOT of O's fans at Monday's game in D.C. It will be interesting to see how many Nat's fans show up in Baltimore, but my guess is not as many. It stands to reason that there are more D.C. residents who are Baltimore fans than vice versa.

Harper said...

And who wants to go to Baltimore? Hey yo!

(I like Baltimore just fine.)

d28 said...

I've spent this summer in the SF/Oakland area -- went to Fister's game against the A's... and Stras' game against the Giants.
Must say that the Giants stadium was great, the fans were awesome, fun to talk with. I can see why attendance is good there. Transportation was a breeze, too.
I had such low expectations for the A's Colosseum that it turned out to be charming to me. The tarp is embarrassing, though, and the fans didn't know a shrug about baseball ... kinda like going to a Nats game and it feels like its everyone's first ballgame in section 222! The only problem was that the distance to the field from the seats is too far, but the view is great from the outfield bleachers.
Still its great place to watch a ballgame, and man do they love Gio! The attendance problem in Oakland shouldn't be blamed on the stadium.

Harper said...

d28 - I don't know if a one time excursion to a park can be used as evidence that the park isn't an issue. I loved my rain-delayed New Comiskey experience and for me a trolley ride from downtown St. Pete to Tropicana and feeding Devil Rays made that place seem ok. I'm not going to say those places don't have issues though.

You say you spent the summer there - like weeks? Months? Did you make it out to Oakland a few times?

Jay said...

Did anyone see Buck's comments from last night? The attendance at the Nats-O's game is proof that DC was great for Baltimore and it was awful nice that Peter Angelos allowed DC to have a team.

Wow - confirms what huge "jerks" Showalter and Angelos are. There's a reason I hate the Orioles and that about sums it up.

Bjd1207 said...

@Jay - Couldn't agree with you more. I dunno if Buck actually believes the O's/Angelos were wronged. But he clearly doesn't care and just wants to score some cheap points with his boss, while being a general a**-hole at the same time

"kind enough to let them have a team" that what it's called when a toddler finally gives up on throwing a temper tantrum? The kid was "kind enough" to finally eat his vegetables? Gimme a break

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I was at Camden Yards for a game a few weeks back and was shocked by how empty it was. I know it's a larger stadium, but still-it was only about half-full. Still a beautiful stadium but I find the game atmosphere to be better at Nats Park. O's fans are a nice bunch though, even though their manager is a prick.

Kenny B. said...

Winning increases attendance. 'Nuf said. Glad attendance is up in the DC/Baltimore area. The Nats are building a really solid fanbase out of all those 20-30 somethings who take their kids to the park and say "I'm a Red Sox fan, but I pull for the Nats at the games." They're getting sucked in by a likable team and not-particularly-hateable organization (I don't know that too many sports organizations are affirmatively "likable"). What's more, their kids are dyed-in-the-wool Nats fans who will tell their kids about Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Harper.

The whole O's/Nats Showalter blowup feels like Baltimore trying to get a rivalry going to boost attendance for both teams. There's a weird relationship between these two teams. Baltimore has a kind of inferiority complex because they are a smaller market, but they have the team and stadium with more history/tradition/etc. Meanwhile a lot of Nats fans have love for the O's after years of pulling for them as the only team in the area, but have fully converted to the "upstart" nationals. And of course the whole thing is complicated by the previous existence of the Senators (and their departure *twice*) and the actually rich history of baseball in DC. So DC is not without some claim to baseball lore. We fly that 1924 World Series flag in the outfield after all (and the last time I was in the Diamond Club bar, they had the line score from the final game of that series up above the bar, which I thought was super cool).

Whatever, love the Nats and will continue to support them and do my part to keep baseball here for good this time.

Anonymous said...

@Kenny B - Well said!!

John C. said...

I was surprised by the number of O's fans Monday night, not because I don't think they have a following in the area (for 33 years they were the closest MLB team, and the local media spent a lot of time trying to convince us that they were the "home" team), but because the last few times I've been to OPACY there weren't that many O's fans there.

The O's do draw better on weekends, and also have the massive influxes when Yankee and Red Sox fans take over the stadium. But even with that it's not good. Just last week the O's had a four game stand against Texas that averaged 18,103 fans, bottoming out just over 13,000 for one game.* For a first place team in midsummer, after schools are out, that's kinda pathetic.

And even with the Yankee and Red Sox fans their weeknight attendance isn't very good. I went to a game early last September between the Yankees and the Orioles. The two teams were still in the Wild Card hunt, so you had a marquee opponent, a game between winning teams (the O's were 77-67, Yanks 76-67) with pennant implications. The official attendance was 17,456 - paid, not turnstile count - and of the fans that showed up at least a third were Yankee fans. Possibly more. Which is why I was shocked that about 14-15,000 O's fans showed up at Nats Park Monday night.

*For comparison, the Nats' lowest single game attendance this season is 20,869 - and that was for a weekday afternoon game on April 10 against the Marlins. The Nats' attendance may not be what it could be, but compared to the O's they're doing great.

Bote Man said...

Quoting a Thomas Boswell radio interview after the Nationals' first home game 14 April, 2005:

"It's a ridiculously bigger, richer, more sports-oriented town than it was when I grew up here in the 50s,'s just a different place. And baseball will find that out."

Somehow, I kinda think MLB knew this before they moved the team from Montreal to D.C. Just a hunch.

Froggy said...

I haven't read the Boz article and probably won't. But otherwise, a lot of good comments here from the group. I think it is common sense that winning drives attendance, as does tradition and generational influence.

I grew up spending summers as a kid with my grandparents in Oakland in the early 70's and in between teaching me how to make their Seagram's Seven and waters, they would launch me off to the Oakland Alameda County Colosseum and Charlie Finley's A's. I spent many a summer game in the bleachers watching greased pig chasing and hot-pants contests, preseason games with and orange baseballs, and a motorized rabbit that came up out of the ground to give baseballs to the umpire. Good times!

Because of Charlie O, (and Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, ...(sigh) I'll forever be an A's fan...on the AL side and a Nats fan for the NL.

I do think what irks the Angelos is the realization that Baltimore will never have the economic demographics that DC does, especially with the revitalization of Navy Yard. I'll bet the average Nats season plan holder's income is much higher and the average fan spends more per game as well. Which is precisely why I was hoping the A's would move to San Jose.

d28 said...

Harper-- Unfortunately for my Nats ticket plan, I've been here since the end of April.
I've only been to a couple games out here though. Having heard over and over how bad the stadium was, I expected something much worse than what is actually there. Sure I liked the Giants park better, but if I were an A's fan I would watch a winning ball team there. Even if the place has issues, its just not that bad. I think there must be another issue besides the stadium.

Froggy -- why do you hope the A's move to San Jose? because theres more money there?

Richard Parker said...

So is anyone else glad MW didn't listen to Harper's suggestion about a week or so ago that perhaps Werth should be benched? NL Player of the Week, another dinger tonight. Doubles by the bushel. Seems like some of the power has returned, eh?

KingCranium said...

I think the O-fan turnout at nats park really is all those area fans who don't go to Baltimore anymore, but never switched over and were happy to don their jerseys once more and show up. This area was without baseball except for the Orioles too long for some of those fans to switch. If the Nats continue to be good, and as they age, that turnout is going to decrease in the future.

Froggy said...

@d28, I would actually prefer they stay in Oakland for sentimental reasons and have a new ballpark that is only for baseball built. But in lieu of that, moving to market that has a deeper and broader pool of more upwardly mobile fans who would continue to spend their money in a commercial area surrounding the park would be great too. I think public transportation might be better as well.

That said , the A's could play in a county fairground and I'd bring folding chairs and still support them.