Winning Cures Many Ills

The Nationals kicked up quite a fuss when they announced a new initiative aimed at taking back Nats Park from scores of invading Phillies Fans. Chief Operations Officer Andy Feffer seems to have discovered that there might be a base of home-town fans here in the Washington, D.C. region that could be worth marketing to:

“There’s a huge fan base here, and they’re excitable, and they’re ready,” Feffer said. “What we really hope is that by creating and igniting a rivalry here, it’ll be just as raucous here as they get up in Philly, and that we’ll own our own ballpark.”

How about all those Phillies fans coming into the park? Well, Feffer says they’re still welcome

But look, we’re not gonna make it easy for group sales, for buses coming from Philly. I will not make it easy for those guys to buy tickets or get into this ballpark.


I’m happy to see that the Nationals are trying hard to undo the lasting damage done to the franchise by former President Stan Kasten’s craven pandering to Philadelphia fans in 2009. But Feffer doesn’t even sound remotely sincere to me. Remember, folks, this is is the same genius whose idea of a “unique ballpark experience” was to introduce the finest concessions already available in New York’s Citi Field. And it didn’t take long for reports to emerge that Nationals ticket sales personnel had already been calling their preferred Philadelphia customers about Phillies tickets at Nats Park. Besides, there’s nothing the Nats can do about the thousands of quasi-fraudulent straw-man transactions that are bound to happen on the secondary ticket market.

What’s a Nats fan to do? Well, obviously, BUY TICKETS. But I fully expect it to be nearly as full of Phillies fans as usual.

True to the nature of this blog, though, Nats fans can take some solace in statistics. The lesson here is something that I’ve been saying for ages (and something that I doubt the Nationals marketing team has ever considered): there is no ballpark experience quite as good as when the home team wins.

Remember the 2005 Nationals? They played in RFK Stadium, a crumbling relic from another age. They won only 81 games. And yet, in 2005, the Nationals drew 66,689 more people than the 2005 Phillies, who played in a brand-new Citizens Bank Park. Nats fans never complained of Phillies fan invasions in those days. I remember grumbling about the odd busload of Mets fans, but, generally, RFK was mostly Nats fans, most of the time–and always pretty full.

The seasons since have not been kind. The Nats since 2005 have played some truly abysmal baseball. As you might imagine, the number of fans going to the park might be a function of the quality of the team they’re about to go see:

I had to multiply the won/loss ratio by 4000 to get a nice scale. Never mind the numbers, pay attention to the trends.

Other than a new-park bounce in 2008, the Nats fortunes at the turnstiles have tracked closely with their fortunes on the field. As the red line goes, so goes attendance. And how about our arch-rivals in the City of Brotherly love?

Same story. The Phillies didn’t contend in 2005 or 2006. Suddenly, 2007, they win the division and get a huge bump in attendance. From then on, they go from strength to strength, winning the world series in 2008, the National League Pennant in 2009, and taking the division in 2010 and 2011. Watch that red line again, folks: steady increase in win percentage, steady increase in attendance.

So don’t take Philly fans too personally, Nats town. A lot of them weren’t around in the lean times, despite their new ballpark. Put less charitably, the Phillies attendance is boosted by the thousands upon thousands of bandwagon fans that arrive when it looked like they might become contenders.

But there’s hope for the Nats. Most projections have them doing better in 2012 than they did in 2005. They play in a nicer ballpark now. They bring a much more attractive product onto the field, in the form of their strong starting pitching. Attendance should start to pick up in 2012. And even if Nats town can’t keep the vomitous hordes of Philadelphia fans away from the turnstiles this year, they’ll stop being quite so smug when they start losing.

So, Andy Feffer, if you’re reading this, pass it along to Rizzo and Mr. Lerner. The best way to keep Philadelphia fans sullen, depressed, and out of your ballpark is by building a team that beats their team and everybody else’s team besides.

EDITED: I’d erroneously called Andy Feffer “Dan Feffer” instead.