If you built it, they will come? Not really. But if you win, they DEFINITELY will come.
Attendance at Nationals Park is way up this season, almost 28% over this time last year. The team is averaging 29,598 a game at the end of the homestand against the Yankees, which saw all three games sell out. In fact five of the team’s top ten attended games happened in the first three months of this year. You can check out more in WaPo’s notes on 2012 attendance.
And this hasn’t been an issue of the visiting team’s fans taking over the park. The days of cameramen in the stands struggling to find a shot full of Nationals fans are over. In the games I’ve attended, Nats fandom has been well-represented; I would estimate this weekend’s Yankees series ran 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of the home team.
The Nationals are on pace for roughly 2.4 million in attendance. This would surpass the 2.3 million that came in 2008, the first year of Nationals Park, but it would fall short of 2005’s 2.7 million, the first year the Nats were in DC. However, traditionally this is the time of year attendance actually spikes, as kids get out of school and the weather becomes a little more predictable. With a solid lead atop the division and the team looking quite capable of sustaining that success, this string of box office success looks to continue.
The Nationals are building a strong fanbase, probably quicker than anyone in the front office thought they could. The success brings with it a lot of questions they’ll have to answer over the coming weeks and months. Will The Face of the Franchise ™ have to take a seat if his offense remains flaccid? Do they pull the trigger on a move for a center-fielder or do they let Bryce Harper play out of position until a prospect (Brian Goodwin maybe) takes over? And the biggest question of all: how do you shut down your ace in the middle of a pennant run? The Nats have a real chance of making the playoffs (according to this, 70.1%), and a team that appears to let up on the gas by benching Stephen Strasburg could turn off the fans just starting to jump on the bandwagon. The success they’ve found at the box office is delicate, and a long slump could keep those fickle fans at home.