Yeah, I’m going there.
I don’t care that I’m the fan of an aging team that’s playing way above even my wildest expectations right now, because at least the team that I’m a fan of has a fan base that doesn’t need to be told who their favorite team is. That’s what the Washington Nationals are doing this season in an attempt to get fans to fill their seats—and it’s not really doing much.
For the last couple of years, the Nats have had average attendance, thanks, mostly, to the fans of other teams (especially the Philadelphia Phillies’ fans) invading the park and donating to the cause. This, of course, led to that ridiculous “Take Back the Park” weekend, where the club spilled all kinds of Natitude throughout the stadium in the hopes that their “fans” could be louder and more obnoxious that Philly fans (they failed). Fast forward to this season, a year after their first NL East Division title and a disastrous collapse in Game 5 of the NLDS, and they’re still drawing average-at-best numbers. Sure they’re up. But with the expectations that were floating around this team heading into the season—they were the odds-on favorite to win the World Series—they should be close to selling out every damn game, and they’re not.
So, what are they doing to try to rectify that situation? They’re trying to convince the locals that the Washington Nationals are “your team,” like so:
A couple of things wrong with this.
First, DC is a transient town (not many people are actually from here), which means a lot of people come here with prior loyalties, and, so long as they are real fans and not of the fickle variety, they aren’t going to just switch sides because you’re telling them to. In fact, I’d be more inclined to like your team less because of your arrogance, telling me that the Nationals are my team. You don’t know me. So stop acting like you think you do.
Second, maybe this is more of an indictment on the fan base than it is on the team’s marketing. People actually from the DC area haven’t really given baseball a chance since it returned in 2005. They showed up in the playoffs, and for the first month of this season, and when things started not going as well as expected, they left. They up and moved on and started getting ready for football season. I hear a lot from the local media about how the city’s fans just aren’t on par with those from New York, Boston, and Philly as far as baseball IQ goes. Nats beat reporter, Adam Kilgore, wrote in this morning’s Washington Post about how the lack of success is impacting local radio shows.
Danny Rouhier, who co-hosts a morning sports talk show on 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official broadcast partner, said a year ago fans clogged phone lines to discuss Harper’s ascendance, Strasburg’s innings limit and the Nationals’ first playoff race. On opening day this year, the show had “locked and loaded [phone] lines.”
As the Nationals’ losses piled up, “we’ve just sort of had to push it to the back burner,” Rouhier said. Caller volume slows when the Nationals arise as a topic, he said, and ratings shrink.
“We’ve had to move away from the amount of Nats conversation we’d like to have,” Rouhier said. “One of my missions is to make D.C. baseball popular. Without the team living up to their end of the bargain, it’s tougher and tougher to do that.”
Rouhier said the team’s most loyal fans remain just as fervent. At many games this season, though, the team’s supporters have fled Nationals Park before the last out.
People in this town need to stop being the most bandwagon fans in the history of fandom. If they actually would take the time to get to know the game and understand what’s going on, the environment at Nationals Park would improve a-million-fold, and they might start to realize that things aren’t so bad and that they definitely have a team worth getting behind. It would make going to games more fun for the other fans (myself included) that wish we could have a real heckle-session with Nats fans. If I’m ripping apart their bullpen for being one of the worst in baseball—which they are—a comeback along the lines of, “Well, Philly smells,” just doesn’t cut it.
Sitting at a Phillies-Nats game a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was off with the experience at Nats Park. The stadium is beautiful. The food was great. The seats we had were great. But there was something that just didn’t seem right about it. Then it dawned on me. It was so damn quiet. It was a pretty full game, but you could drop a dime on the other side of the park and I would’ve been able to hear it. Fans were quiet when Phils were in 2-strike counts; there was just no emotion. Even when the Nats got a couple hits and scored some runs (they did end up winning the game) there was no emotion. Nothing. A few claps here or there, but not anything like being at Citizens Bank Park where there isn’t a quiet moment, and fans will boo an ump for four innings when they blow a call.
Get your shit together, Nats fans. Learn to be a good host when we visiting fans show up in droves.