With a whimper, the Washington Nationals lost their fifth straight game tonight in front of a record low attendance of 10,999. Over the past two weeks the Nationals players have been accused of playing like they wish the season was already over, it appears the fans are starting to agree. The result is that just one shy of 11,000 witnessed the Nationals make three errors and give up a seven-run fifth inning in one of the uglier losses in recent memory. Perhaps it was for the best.
The underlying fact remains that six seasons after baseball has come to Washington, the Nationals are on a dangerous pace to set a franchise record in low attendance. That record mark would come in the very same season that saw Stephen Strasburg pitch in front of sellout crowds. It would happen in a season not played in cryptic RFK, and it would happen in a season where the club had their best start since 2005. It would be an embarrassment.
Sadly, attendance problems for the Nationals are not anything new. The club sludged through three years at RFK before unveiling a stadium that was supposed to save the franchise, if not the city. It has done neither since its opening in 2008. The Lerners, the District, and the fans were all counting on the revenue that a brand new stadium had historically promised. In San Francisco and Philadelphia we saw teams flourish with a surge of revenue and a rejuvenated fan base after their respective stadiums were built, we all figured the same would happen here.
The paying fans never came.
With tonight's record low, the Nationals have recorded their three worst attendance nights in franchise history this season. Yes, 2010 which has seen arguably the most progress on the field in the team's history has seen the most regression in the stands. But while two bad games in April are excusable (Capitals playoffs), what was tonight's excuse to warrant the worst night EVER in Nationals attendance?
The Redskins played last night, not tonight. The Capitals and Wizards seasons are still a month away. The weather was beautiful this evening, and vacation season is over.
As depressing as it is to admit, it has come to the point where we have to acknowledge that by and large Washingtonians just don't care about the Nationals...not yet, at least. Why would they? The club has been historically bad since their arrival, they have been unable until recent years to put any stars on the field, and they have been uninviting with their prices.
Despite their poor attendance performance year-after-year the Nationals ticket prices stay high. To give you an idea, the most expensive seat you can buy at Camden Yards is $55. That ticket will get you right behind home plate. The same ticket at Nats Park costs you $325 dollars. If that is a bit out of your price range you are welcome to sit in the Home Plate Box" or the PNC Diamond Club for a modest $170 a pop. In fact if you were to spend the same amount that you would for the absolute best tickets at Camden Yards at Nats Park, you would get 11th best seating option that the Nationals offer.
That just doesn't make any sense.
What have the Nationals done to expect that kind of allegiance? Clearly the numbers do not lie, if the Nats want to build a bigger fan base, they need to make their games affordable to go to. This is a bright, exciting city with many entertainment options. If you are not a die-hard baseball fan, why would you break the bank to go to a game when you could do so many other things?
While the Nationals have done a great job in the past 18 months creating a better on the field product, the club needs to also focus their efforts on building a fan base here at home. The numbers don't lie, they need to find a way to put butts in the seats in the short run.