Washington Nationals: Time For Fans To Embrace Them

Aug 23, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals mascot "Screech" waves a flag on the field after the Nationals
Aug 23, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals mascot "Screech" waves a flag on the field after the Nationals /

As the Washington Nationals flourish on the field, they continue to struggle at the gate and on television. Why have they failed to break through with the fan?

The Washington Nationals have reached their awkward middle school phase.

After three division championships in five years, attendance dropped to 2.48 million in 2016 from 2015s 2.619 million. Television ratings put the Nationals games around mid-table at 2.78 per game or 68,000 viewers every night watching Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo. Thirteen seasons into their life in Washington, the team is an afterthought with the public.

FanSided, the host of this and over 300 sites, recently ranked the 250 biggest fan bases in sports and pop culture as part of their Fandom 250 series. The Nationals did not make it. The lone Washington team to make the list, outside of the political parties, was the Redskins at No. 215.

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Not a surprise as the area lives and breathes football while surviving on politics.

That is not terrible. Considering the state of the franchise when it arrived in DC, the Nats are light years ahead in support and stability than they were in Montreal. Yet, the team has not exceeded their 2005 debut attendance at the gate with 2.731 million. Yes, Nationals Park is smaller than the old RFK Stadium.

Still, if the Nats sold out their season, the potential attendance hits 3,346,353. With a team contending for a championship, a million tickets remain unsold. Since attendance figures are tickets sold and not turnstile numbers, the number likely increases to 1.2 or 1.3 million.

Seven teams drew three million in 2016 and 12 topped 2.5 million. Washington should do better.

Their lack of trendiness is hurting their bottom line.

Yes, they do not get a full-market share of the money from MASN and the principal owner Baltimore Orioles. The O’s, if you are wondering are the most watched prime-time summer program on television, drawing a 7.2 rating. They carry the freight.

When you have a million unsold tickets for a team which is the most successful since their 1969 birth, it makes you scratch your head. They have bankable stars in Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. Stephen Strasburg’s starts, when healthy, are must see television. Yet, the team remains to be embraced by the public.

Those empty seats translate into a loss of revenue. As the Nats maintain a big-market salary with mid-market interest, keeping a high payroll becomes harder. At some point, the success will slow down. If you scoff at three playoff losses, what happens when they do not make the playoffs?

Forget the 1994 Strike, the Expos had two potential playoff trips in 37 years. This was not a franchise steeped in success. If Montreal bagged three division titles in five years, they would still be the Expos with Washington watching the Orioles for a baseball fix.

We saw how fan pressure forced the team to trade for Adam Eaton. Yet, fan apathy is one reason the team has reached a financial impasse. You cannot be upset one minute how the team spends money then ignore them until next October.

Whether it is going to a couple more games a year, or demanding the local sports bar puts on a Nats game over a Redskins talk show, creating a fan base starts with us. The more we do, the faster Washington becomes a place where players want to play.

Next: Profiling Nats Prospect Telmito Agustin

Football will always be king here, but there is no reason the Washington Nationals cannot be part of the conversation.