Metro columnist/blogger Marc Fisher and I have had a running dialogue about the attendance for local sports teams over many months. The latest skirmish came when Fisher included this line in a recent column:
The Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League -- their cheerleaders were the Honeydips -- lasted a bit longer, from 1974 to 1981, but, like today's D.C. United soccer squad, struggled to attract fans.
This seemed to me the cheapest of cheap shots, from a man who seems to delight in antagonizing soccer fans no matter the context. And so I asked Marc why this was so. He said he has nothing against soccer fans. I said, considering the circumstances and the fact that D.C. is a lame sports town, United could not possibly be described as "struggling." He wrote this:
Soccer fans are forever making all manner of excuses. Why can't they just be happy that their team is drawing the size crowd it draws....You're right that this is a mediocre sports town, but I don't see how that justifies the endless whining from United fans--it's a fact of life that all franchises here but for the Redskins have to deal with. The ones that are managed well do well; the others will just drift.
I attempted to again argue that United, when looked at with anything approaching fairness, does not "struggle" to draw crowds; that their baseline for success--as with the Wizards and Caps and others--is not 90,000. "If cordoned-off upper decks aren't a sign of struggle, I don't know what is," he wrote.
And I know this is a tired argument, and I know it has no real significance other than scoring bloggable points, but anyhow here's my point: When judging teams, consider their peers and their game. That's all. If you put, say, a feisty Butler basketball crowd in the Alamadome, it would look dumb. Pitiful. Ridiculous. But put that same crowd in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and it looks great. Don't compare United to the Redskins; compare United to its peers. As I wrote to Marc, "It's all about context, and in the proper context--fourth/fifth-tier pro sports league, vs. New York Red Bulls and Washington Capitals and stuff like that--United does smashingly well."
Anyhow, that's just words. You can read Marc's many words on the topic from this morning over here. I grew up a baseball kid, and have no desire to see the Nats draw poorly. But when you're sent blog posts like this from well-respected bloggers, with the intro, "So there really is no such thing as a Nats fan, eh?" and then read about United's "struggles," well....
What follows are the numbers for the local teams, after the jump.
2006 Average: 87,631
Total Bodies: 701,049
League Rank: 1st out of 32
Full Seats Ranking: 5 out of 5. They might be drunk and violent and occasionally homophobic, but bless them, Redskins fans show up or the games. You could build 80-foot towers at FedEx and lock people on the top floor with no windows and no oxygen and only Kangaroo TV modules to follow the score, and they would still pay $100 for the honor of being there, and probably attempt to tailgate.
2007 Average: 16,822
Total Bodies: 319,616
League Rank: 2nd out of 12 (eighth in the country).
Full Seats Ranking: 5 out of 5. Maryland draws and draws and draws. When I get complaints from fans of smaller schools about our coverage, this is always my argument.
2006 Average: 49,393
Total Bodies: 345,752
League Rank: 7th out of 12 (41st in the country).
Full Seats Ranking: 3.5 out of 5. You know, I honestly don't understand why The Post doesn't devote more coverage to the Terps, in all sports. They play 20 minutes from our offices, and they pack people in there. Terps football games have the feeling of big events, even with bad noon starts and terrible traffic.
2007 Average: 20,458
Total Bodies: 265,953 (two home games remaining)
League Rank: 2nd out of 13
Full Seats Ranking: 3 out of 5. Yeah, those upper decks are unsightly. But no one thinks MLS teams belong in 40k venues. And a United game is, bar none, the best fan experience in the metro area, which has to count for something. And if you consider the league's youth and budgets, vis a vis the other pro leagues, you have to be extremely obstinate not to be impressed. Also, they have micro-brews at their tailgates.
2007 Average: 10,441
Total Bodies: 177,501
League Rank: 5th out of 16 (41st in the country)
Full Seats Ranking: 2.5 out of 5. The big games last year had a big-game feel. The school plays in a massive arena far from campus. My understanding is the McDonough games rock. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.
2007 Average: 18,372
Total Bodies: 753,283
League Rank 12th out of 30
Full Seats Ranking: 2.5 out of 5. I will never forget the sight of empty seats at those two home playoff games last spring. Yeah, the Wizards had no chance. But still. Also, will attendance numbers change in the post-O'Malley years?
2007 Average: 24,217
Total Bodies: 1,961,579
League Rank: 25th out of 30.
Full Seats Ranking: 2 out of 5. Regardless of the official numbers, I've been to too many games where you could close your eyes and listen to the crowd and have no idea which team was at-bat. And not just Mets and Cubs games, as Fisher suggested. I'd love to see what the Nats would draw for an intra-squad game. Plus, those empty upper decks that so bother Fisher at United games are not much different at plenty of Nats games. But again, they're in a bigger, better, more high-profile league, and everyone agrees that they warrant a bigger stadium.
2007 Average: 7,788
Total Bodies: 132,396
League Rank: 8th out of 13
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. Not sure how much higher this figure will ever go, frankly.
2007 Average: 3,403
Total Bodies: 44,233
League Rank: 11th out of 14
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. And I'm not trying to pick on GW; it's just a program I'm familiar with from covering them. They have a cozy on-campus arena, a team (last year) that was coming off its best season in school history and an exciting style of ball. And they draw flies.
2007 Average: 13,929
Total Bodies: 571,129
League Rank: 27th out of 30
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. But maybe it'll be better this year. And that whole club seats issue isn't the team's fault. Still, if a major Metro columnist wanted to target a team for struggling to draw, this might be the one.