Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pawtucket Nationals

In 2004, when DC was selected to received the nomadic Expos, I was ecstatic. Surprised also, as I thought that Portland would offer a more loyal fan base and Las Vegas was a completely untapped market. However, MLB spotted the free ATM that is the Federal Government and greed won in a landslide. It is hard to blame MLB, as the integrity bar in baseball is set very low. DC would also be the easiest place to obtain a free stadium. A little seedy, but I wasn't an O's fan and wasn't going to pretend to be one.

Everybody ignored the fact that major league baseball failed in DC twice. The signs were there in 2004 that the city had changed. Face it, this is a an Orioles and Red Sox town... if NESN was carried on the basic cable tier, they would outdraw the Nats on MASN for viewers. It foolish to think that thirty to sixty thousand Bostonians decided to try to make a weeknight series against the worst team in the league nine hours away in DC. Most of these tickets are sold to local Red Sox fans, those filthy annoying donkeys filling up Buffalo Billiards on Friday night.

The hardcore Nationals fans have done well at repelling the surge, but the front office has gone out of their way to create as much of a home field environment for the Red Sox as possible. So that begs the question- would the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox be able to outdraw the Nats in DC? My initial reaction would be no way, but there have been way too many nights that Nats park has more resembled a Washington Freedom game. The PawSox regularly draw eight to twelve thousand... which isn't bad considering McCoy only seats about ten.

The problem is that MLB overestimated the demand for baseball in DC, just as they did in Tampa (Miami is another story). There is a solid TV market, but most people off the street (myself included) are Red Sox, Yankees, or Orioles fans. To create a large fan base here would be a daunting task, and so far neither the city nor the owners have been up to the task. There have been arguments that the fans will come once the team starts winning, but that hasn't played out in Tampa. While Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and even Baltimore have been beaten down by decades of losing, the Nats don't even seem to have gotten through the "New Car Smell" phase before the malaise set in.

The question for us DC residents is had Portland won the Expos sweepstakes and the consolation prize was and Independent or International League team. Would you have supported the team? Would affiliation have mattered? Just something to think about as the Nats are forced to build from the ground up. More than likely, though, MLB will assign the Nats a similar fate as the Senators.

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