Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fans Flying North for the Nationals' Endless Winter?

Distinguished Senators had a post yesterday which kicks off what I think will be an emerging narrative over the coming months and possibly years. Will Nationals fans, many of whom for several decades migrated north to root for the Orioles, start to drift back to Birdland?

Baltimore is generating a lot of buzz these days with an exciting core of young stars led by Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis, and a rising posse of impressive pitching talent including Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta. Building around solid veterans like Brian Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie, it's not terribly difficult to imagine this Orioles team emerging as a contender in the tough AL East in the next couple years.

The Orioles have essentially done what the Nationals have only talked about. They got Wieters and Arrieta by investing in the draft and paying premium bonuses for premium players who slipped because of signability. They got Jones, Tillman, and a whole bunch of other useful parts by flipping declining veterans while they still had significant value. They got Koji Uehara by spending internationally.
They executed "The Plan."

If the Orioles do make the leap into contention, is there anything the Nationals can do, short of fielding a true contender of their own, to keep NatsTown from becoming a complete ghost town? Would anyone, even the obsessives, really keep spending time and money on a mostly hopeless Nationals team if the Orioles are in the playoffs?

And if you assume that the Nationals are at the very most optimistic 2-3 years away from fielding a contender, what will it do to those plans if in the meantime season tickets fall under 10,000 (or 8,000? 5,000? how low could it go? we may find out...). It's a brutal downward cycle.


Dave said...

Nope, sorry, not me. I lived in Northern VA for 13 years before there was baseball in DC (1992-2005). During that time I made it up to OPCY about three times. And that was in the Ripken era. It takes me two hours to get there, and there hasn't been a reason to make that trip in a long time.

More importantly, Baltimore ownership kept baseball out of DC for a third of a century. I don't care how good the Orioles get, they live in a different region, as far as I'm concerned.

Sasskuash said...

I'm with Dave. I don't live in the Baltimore area or even the state of Maryland. I feel no connection to Baltimore. If they do well, I'll feel happy for them, maybe (just maybe) go to 1 game, but I'll stick with the Nats. I won't buy season tickets, so I can't help their gate numbers, but I won't bail for Baltimore. I'd sooner stop paying attention to baseball altogether. (since I didn't pay attention for the first 20 years of my life before the Nats came to DC).

Anonymous said...

Yeah both this post and the other post by Distinguished Senators don't recognize the years of frustration we had to go through before there was a team in Washington. There is NO WAY I will line the pockets of Angelos after what he did to Washington. Dave and Sasskuash have it right.

We're seeing a lot of the bandwagon fans bailing now, but they will be back in 2 years when the Nats are winning (as hard as that is to fathom now) and I will be amused to point out the bandwagoneers in the crowd.

Smirkman said...

I live in Columbia, MD and will never root for the Orioles as long as there is a team in Washington. Anyone can choose to root for a winner (hence the Yankees large fan base) but unless you are 10 there more important reasons for your loyalty. This team may be tough to watch but the days of winning will be that much sweeter. How rewarding is it to switch to a new team once it has already started winning? I just hope my 5 year old will have as much patience as I do. BTW I wear my nats gear all the time with pride and laugh when people say "aren't you embarrassed to root for them?" I reply that I am proud to root for them as they represent the Nation's Capital and when they win it will be even more rewarding. Anybody can root for a winner. It takes real fans to stick with a bad club.

Steven said...

Anyone still on board now doesn't deserve to be called a "bandwagoneer." Come now.

I can understand hating Angelos and choosing not to root for the Orioles. But really, isn't there some value to just having fun? I mean, if all there is separating you from actually enjoying baseball again is to just block out the existence of the owner, wouldn't you do it? (And don't you have to do that anyway? I mean, it's not like the Nationals owners are such great people, and what MLB owner is?).

CoverageisLacking said...

The big problem in my view is the young kids, who are still developing their baseball loyalties. Ideally, they should be the first generation of "born and bred" Nats fans who, 10 to 20 years from now, will start to become the core of a born and bred fan base, as they age and start buying tickets on their own. The kind of fans who become bartenders/managers and actually want to show the Nats on TV in their own city. The kind of fans that a team needs in order to thrive and become ingrained in a city, long-term. Many of those kids are, unfortunately, gravitating to the Os, and it's not because their parents are pushing them. Kids like to root for good teams and, really, who can blame them?

Steven said...

@Smirk--I agree with all that. I rooted for the Green Bay Packers from the late 70s through the 80s (while living in Chicago!) and my oh my were the 90s fun.

BUT! my 18-month-old can't speak but she's learned enough that she claps when Ryan Howard comes up. I'm not kidding. What do I do with that? Lecture the kid about loyalty?

Anonymous said...

Steven no one will accuse you of ever being a bandwagoneer, and your blog is always interesting reading without being trite and overly snarky as some of the other blogs are.

All I am saying is my personal feelings towards Mr. Angelos (and I did express them once personally to the Toad, much to my wife's chagrin) will always prevent me from being a fan of the Orioles no matter how good they are.

Sure, you make a good point about going for the fun, and once in a while I do -- making sure I buy the beers at Pickles, and bring in my peanuts, and either get a free ticket or a ticket from some guy on the street.

But I can do all those things at Nationals Park while making jokes about Ron Villone's Hall of Fame credentials, and if Manny is awake in the dugout or he is like the guy at Weekend at Bernie's.

My son is 8 and he views the Orioles as being a team from another planet basically. And frankly it is a good lesson to teach kids sometimes -- to be a real fan, you have to go through the crap like we are doing and hope it comes out better on the other side. A lot like the Caps.

Steven said...

Just to be clear, I'm playing devil's advocate a little here. Personally, if the Nationals don't sign Strasburg, my loyalties would really be in play. Aside from that, I'm just enjoying the lack of ticket discipline.

CoverageisLacking said...

Steven, latching on to the Pack in the 70s and 80s is pretty admirable, I must say. But find a bunch of guys who grew up in New York in the 70s, and see how many of them were--and remain to this day--Cowboys, Steelers, or Dolphins fans, because the Giants and Jets sucked when they were growing up. Sure, some were Giants and Jets fans, but many were not, and are not.

"Anonymous," we can talk about being "real fans" all you want, but this is a fact of life. Kids like to root for teams that win. Sure, some hang in there, but many don't. And don't lets start calling little kids front-runners or "bandwagoners."

El Rey said...

Although Angelos is a despicable human being, he is not as odious as the Lerners. It seems like Angelos maybe has learned his lesson and now has some actual baseball people in his front office. Say what you will about the O's, their stadium is much nicer than Nationals Park and there are things to do in the Inner Harbor before and after a game unlike around Nationals Park unless you are willing to walk up to 8th Street which most fans won't do because it is a bit of a hike from the stadium. Also, I have read on several blogs that the Orioles actually give away free tickets to Little League teams in the D.C. suburbs. I don't know if this is true or not since you can't always believe what is posted on the Internet. Let's be honest, D.C. had a real opportunity to do something great with a new stadium. Instead, the results are lacking and seems like the product of some Soviet Era 5 year economic plan. Even if the development in the stadium district is finally successful, it will never compare to what the O's have in the Inner Harbor. Come on, does anyone really like all those non-descript office buildings behind the outfield at Nationals Park?

Will said...

Growing up an Orioles fan and insisting every year to go to O's game for my birthday and as much as my parents would buy tickets, it was a big decision I had to make in '05 when the Nats moved to town. I was from Silver Spring, so the Baltimore connection wasn't nearly as distant as many of the N. Viriginians posting here. I ended up favoring the "hometown" aspect over the "childhood memories", and about half of my friends did the same. Though in hindsight I'd probably have done the opposite. If the Orioles hadn't been so directionless and terrible between '99 and '04, I'd very likely have stuck with the them. Now, I'm stuck with a Nats team that shows the same qualities that drove me away from the O's. Bad owner, bad farm system, an inability to trade veteran players, signing FAs to unnecessary contracts, and most of all putting together a terrible team.

I'm still a big Nats fan, though I still root for the Orioles. (But whenever they play in interleague play, I root for the Nats.) But I have noticed that I've been paying more attention to the Orioles recently, mostly because they're much more interesting than the steaming pile in DC. A couple wrong moves on important things like not signing Strasburg, and I won't have any qualms dropping the team. I've spent enough years invested in other crappy teams (the O's, Redskins, Wizards and Caps) that I don't need another, especially one that has played such a small part in my life.

WFY said...

To go to Camden Yards is to reward bad, anti-Washington, anti-Nats behavior.

Angelos voted against the Expos moving here.

Angelos kept the Nats off of television for almost two years for most D.C. viewers.

Angelos owns MASN which treats the Nats as a stepchild.

The Nats need to get their act together on several fronts. I bet they do it a lot faster than Angelos is doing it in Baltimore.

Ryan said...

One thing to keep in mind that most of "us" - by which I mean bloggers, blog commenters, and blog readers - are a self-selecting group of diehards. Serious, dedicated Nats fans, many of us with a (completely justified) ax to grind with Angelos and the O's.

But most baseball fans aren't. I'm contintually amazed at how often I run into the combo of Redskins/Orioles fans, even in Northern VA. They're always casual fans, but their money's just as good as ours, and there's more of it.

And that's the danger. These people to going to need more than resentment at Angelos (once again, completely justified, morally sound resentment) to keep them coming to the Nats Park. It didn't matter so much when both teams were terrible, but the O's are putting out a much better product right now. It's cheaper, and if you live in Maryland, it's not any less time-consuming or convenient to get there.

I'll be here til the bitter end, and I know you guys will be. But we don't want to lose a generation of Free Staters to the birds.

Steven said...

Ryan--Right. And then the next question that people haven't really picked up on from my post, is what does the shrinking of the fan base do to the plan.

Anonymous said...

"But find a bunch of guys who grew up in New York in the 70s, and see how many of them were--and remain to this day--Cowboys, Steelers, or Dolphins fans, because the Giants and Jets sucked when they were growing up."

You'll find just as many guys who grew up in DC during the glory years of the Redskins under George Allen and Joe Gibbs who are now Cowboys fans (or Ravens fans).

Anonymous said...

I live in Bmore now, and I though I lived in DC, I grew up rooting for the Os as a child (they had Frank and Brooks and they won). Rooted for the Colts, too.

But that Os team is dead to me. The angelOs are impostors. I will never back a team whose owner kept DC from having baseball (well, besides the Lerners). I watch 'em on TV, that's it. I'd rather drive to Pittsburgh.

Steve Shoup said...

You know WFY that MASN argument against Angelos is tired, old and completely untrue. I hate Angelos as much as the next guy, but come on if you can't see the value of MASN to the Nats then you must be blind.

The Nationals are guaranteed a payout that is equal to the O's and above market value. Last season it was $25 million for their TV rights . This season I don't know if it went up but its at least the same. Would the Nats get that same deal from a Comcast SportsNet or some other company?? No, especially after having the worst viewer ship of any ML team. Also the Nats have everyone of their games on TV...not all teams can say that. Last year during the Rays WS run I think they only had like a 145 televised games (hopefully they renegotiated for this season). And finally the Nats get a percentage of the MASN's profit. So all the money that MASN gets for their Ravens programming or Big East Basketball, the Nats get a slice of that pie. They'd never get that from a CSN. Yes I know you are going to say that its an unfair deal b/c right now the Nats are only getting between 15-20 % but lets be honest. The Nats didn't do any of the production (MLB gave the money but they nor the Lerners have been responsible for any of the negotiations or legal battles) or work. Also the O's did come in with an established fan base which is still tripled the Nats in terms of TV viewers.

As for him keeping the Nats off air, that was Comcast's call to punish Angelos. Did the Nats get screwed sure but they are making more money and have more exposure now than they ever would controlled by a different TV station. Also Angelos has expanded the MASN region into multiple states. CSN would never reach people in NC. If the Nats become a contender they are set up to have a MASSIVE fanbase, BECAUSE OF MASN.