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Nationals On Pace to Set Attendance Low for New Ballpark PDF Print E-mail
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Ticket & Attendance Watch
Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 24 September 2008 00:50

Nationals Park

Nationals Park, sparsely attended

UPDATE #2: The Nationals drew 23,299 on Weds. night, meaning the Nationals will need to draw 34,860 to pass the Reds and miss having the worst first year attendance in the Camden Yard era. The article, and table below have been updated to reflect the new data.

UPDATE: One of our readers pointed out that Jacobs Field and the Ballpark at Arlington were omitted from our study. Both ballparks opened in 1994, a strike shortened year. The table below has been updated with figures for both added with projected attendance figures based upon average attendance at the time leading up to the strike. The overall outcome for the Nationals remains the same. -- Maury Brown

In sports, we’ve all heard this saying at the end of a season:

"They have a mathematical chance.”

And, while that chance is normally referring to teams straining to make the postseason, as you’re about to see, this team’s postseason chances probably died in early April.

With two games left at home, the Washington Nationals are on the cusp of having the worst opening-year attendance of any new ballpark in the Camden Yards era – the period of rapid ballpark construction beginning after Oriole Park at Camden Yards was opened in 1992  and the incredible success it generated for the team. And, while Camden Yards is considered the ballpark – the gold standard, if you will – of the throwback ballpark craze that has swept MLB, it really got moving with the White Sox’ New Comiskey Park, or as it is now called, U.S. Cellular Field.

As I said, there is a mathematical chance that the Nationals will not own this dubious distinction. 58,158 (update: after Weds.' game, this figure now stands at 34,860 with one home game remaining) fans is all that separates attendance at Nationals Park from the worst first-year attendance of all the stadiums which opened in the last 17 years, the Reds' Great American Ball Park that opened in 2003. That year, the Reds had paid attendance of 2,355,259. With two games left to play in Nationals Park, the Nats have drawn an anemic 2,297,101 (update: after Weds'. game, this figure now stands at 2,320,400 with one home game remaining). In their last four games, three of which were played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – traditionally the best days of the week for attendance – the Nationals have averaged 26,585 (update: after Weds.' game, this figure now stands at 27,245). That same average in their two remaining games against the Marlins would not be enough to keep Nationals Park from becoming the worst attended new ballpark opening since 1991.

One could easily parade a list of issues that have surrounded the club and team this year as partial reasons for the woeful attendance. Low morale created by ownership, injuries, bad trades, an inability to sign top draft picks. You name it, they're all there. On top of those issues, radio and television ratings are beyond terrible, so the apathy runs deep (see The Nationals Need to Break the Status Woe). On Tuesday, Tim Lemke and Mark Zuckerman of The Washington Times published the article that best covers the incredibly dismal season for the club (Nationals ‘miserable’ on, off field).

As I was quoted in the article:

"For a first year in a ballpark, it's not good," said Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network and publisher of bizofbaseball.com. "You have to add the caveat that they weren't very good and they were decimated by injuries. But it's just not good, and excuses only go so far."

To expand on the idea that excuses only go so far, the research detailed below tells a tale in which a team's won/loss record doesn’t have much impact on first-season attendance for  new stadiums or for expansion teams – an excuse many a die-hard Nationals fan has used to rationalize this glaring issue. As you will see, the fans making excuses don't have much to hang their hat on.

Of the 18 ballparks built from 1991 to 2008 when Nationals Park opened, there were some awful on-field records: 100 losses by the Pirates, 99 by the Devil Rays, 98 by the Marlins, and 97 by the Diamondbacks. Each of those teams had attendance figures above the 2008 Nationals. And in the case of the Diamondbacks, short of the Orioles, they had the highest first-year attendance of the 16 stadiums during this era. Worse for the Nationals, all those other teams play in smaller markets.

And if that's not bad enough, the Nationals could very easily see attendance in 2009 drop below this year’s figure as the honeymoon effect dissipates and season ticket renewals drop.

The Nationals have a chance for redemption, but it will require that owner Ted Lerner pull back from his current restrained stance and allow president Stan Kasten to do his stuff, otherwise, look for another year of the status woe.

To be taken seriously by fans in the coming off-season, the Nationals ownership will have to be equally as serious about repairing the damage done since purchasing the club.

Attendance by Ballpark - Camden Yards Era
Club
Ballpark
Year
Attendance
Record
Finished
Orioles
Camden Yards
1992
3,684,650
79-83
4th
(AL East)
D-Backs
Bank One Ballpark
1998
3,610,290
65-97
5th
(NL West)
Cardinals
Busch III
2006
3,407,104
83-78
World Series Champions
Rockies
Coors Field
1995
3,390,037
77-67
2nd
(NL West)
Giants
Pacbell Park
2000
3,318,800
97-65
1st
(NL West)
Marlins
Joe Robbie Stadium
1993
3,064,847
64-98
6th
(NL East)
Phillies
Citizen Bank Park
2004
3,250,092
86-76
2nd
(NL East)
Astros
Enron Field
2000
3,056,139
72-90
4th
(NL Central)
Padres
Petco Park
2004
3,016,752
87-75
3rd
(NL West)
White Sox
New Comiskey Park
* 1991
2,934,154
87-75
2nd
(AL West)
Mariners
Safeco Field
^ 2000
2,914,624
91-71
2nd
(AL West)
Rangers
Ballpark at Arlinton
1994
Æ 2,860,798
52-62
1st
(AL West)
Indians
Jacobs Field
1994
§ 2,816,716
66-47
2nd
(AL Central)
Brewers
Miller Park
2001
2,811,041
68-94
4th
(NL Central)
Devil Rays
Florida Suncoast Dome
1998
2,506,293
63-99

5th
(AL East)

Tigers
Comerica Park
2000
2,438,617
79-83
3rd
(AL Central)
Reds
Great American
Ball Park
2003
2,355,259
69-93
5th
(NL Central)
Nationals
Nationals Park
2008
æ 2,297,101
æ 59-98
5th
(NL East)

 

* Pre-dates Camden Yards (Opened on April 18, 1991, just under one year before OPACY opened on April 6, 1992)

^ First full season. Opened July15, 2000.

Æ Based on projected average attendance due to strike shortened season. Actual, 2,503,198 over 63 games. Average of 39,733 per game.

§ Based on projected average attendance due to strike shortened season. Actual, 1,995,174 over 51 games. Average of 39,121 per game.

æ As of 9/24/08. One game left in season at Nationals Park

Source: Baseball Reference, ESPN, Business of Sports Network research


Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

Don't forget to register and log in on The Biz of Baseball site to get updates via your in-box, and see information only logged in members can see.

 
 
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