With Bryce Harper making his return to Nationals Park tonight, there’s been a lot of talk about A-Rod’s comments during ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball about Philly being a better sports town than Washington, DC. While covering a game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and Atlanta Braves, Rodriguez claimed that instead of supporting the local sports franchises, folks in DC are too busy following politics.
“D.C. is about 130 miles down the road, but let’s make it clear, it’s a world of difference between markets,” the former Yankees slugger said. “If you’re over there, you’re thinking about politics and what happens in the White House. If you’re here, this is a sports town and they love their Phillies.”
As someone who grew up in the DC area, I’m used to hearing a lot of people attack Washington sports fans. I was born in the mid-80’s, which was the Redskins’ heyday and the town would go crazy over football. My second grade teacher would even give us a day off from homework whenever they won a game (and I had her the last time the Redskins won the Super Bowl, so it was a good year).
But the closest Major League Baseball team was up in Baltimore and the Wizards and Capitals weren’t exactly powerhouses when I was growing up. You could easily get tickets to the Caps and Wizards because the arena was usually empty and it definitely felt like folks often forgot we had those teams.
Now that the Redskins haven’t been playing well, we constantly hear stories about how the wait list for season tickets wasn’t really as long as the organization claimed and the team’s actually tearing out large sections of seats at FedEx so they can still claim to have sell outs. In my own social media feeds, I also constantly see folks whose families have had season tickets for years talking about giving them up because they’re so disappointed with how Dan Snyder’s been running the team.
That being said, some of the other local teams putting a high quality product on the field has helped turn around DC’s sports scene. During last season’s Stanley Cup run, for instance, the Washington Capitals averaged 18,774 fans per game (which amounts to 104% of capacity at the Capital One Arena) and the Washington Nationals averaged 31,620 fans per game in 2018 despite significantly underwhelming results. That’s 4,302 more fans per game than the Phillies drew last season, despite A-Rod’s claim that Philly’s the better sports town.
With Washington being such a transient area (yes, A-Rod was right that a lot of people come to the area for government related jobs), our sports teams need to have a good product on the field if they want to entice fans. Even fans up in Boston will tell you about how you could walk into Fenway on game day and still get good tickets for relatively cheap prices when the Red Sox weren’t playing well in the 80’s and 90’s. But nobody questions that region’s devotion to their teams.
Having a good product will not only bring more people to games, but they’ll likely become even more educated about the game. As more and more people have been making their way to Nationals Park in recent years, media reports will pop up from time to time about how the fan base is becoming more excited about the game. Folks no longer start to pour out of the stadium after the 7th inning stretch and they realize the importance of a late inning, two out rally. The energy is noticeably higher than when they were struggling to bring a few thousand people into RFK during their early years in DC. This will help build loyalty among fans that could last for generations.
If the Redskins had better ownership, they wouldn’t be forced to rip out seats and would have fans coming to the stadium to celebrate family traditions dating back to their heyday in the 80’s or before. If the Lerner family and Ted Loensis are able to build up enough good will that they won’t lose out like the Redskins and the Nationals and Capitals could help prove Washington truly is a good sports town. We just need owners who are able to build up the good will that Snyder has destroyed over the years.