Nationals’ radio ratings are surging this season


(Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports)

Since this is the slowest week of the sports calendar, the news that the Nats local television ratings are down 34 percent this season — one of the biggest drops in all of baseball — has gotten a lot of attention on local sports-radio programs and internet Web logs.

And plenty of people have theories. I’ve heard radio hosts argue that this might be because Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman — the team’s two most prominent hitters — missed tons of time. I’ve heard hosts argue that this is about fewer kids playing baseball, or fewer kids appreciating televised baseball’s slow pace. I’ve heard hosts wonder — as I did — whether the local attention on the World Cup, or on the Wizards playoff run, could have been responsible for less attention paid to baseball. I’ve heard hosts suggest Washington’s slow start was to blame, or maybe the lack of “World Series or Bust” buzz, or possibly lingering pessimism from 2013.

“I just think this also speaks to what we’ve talked about before: Washington — other than the Redskins — everything else, it needs to be a big event,” ESPN 980′s Kevin Sheehan offered. “It needs to win, and it needs to win big to get consistently big ratings.”

“If they go on a run — say they’re in the NLCS, or say they get to a World Series, or something amazing happens — the ratings will be there in 2015,” said Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “I think it takes a while, I really do. Besides being a Redskins city, it’s an event city, and it’s the next cool thing.”

Readers and callers, meanwhile, have offered takes based on the number of West Coast games, or the MASN announcing crew, or the MASN/MASN2 divide, or Peter Angelos corrupting Nielsen data as a negotiating ploy.

Here’s a problem with virtually every one of those theories: As the Junkies mentioned on 106.7 The Fan this week, the team’s radio ratings are actually up this year, and substantially.

“They’re doing really well on the radio,” J.P. Flaim said this week.

“Their ratings have never been higher,” John Auville added.

Indeed, it turns out that through the team’s first 46 games — a span that ended near the end of May, when the Nats were kind of muddling along on the field — the average per-game radio audience was up 42 percent among men aged 25-54, and up 40 percent among all adults aged 25-54, compared with the same period in 2013. I don’t have the exact radio audience number, but it’s not in a totally different ballpark from the television audience number.

Now, do people love Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler on the radio? Well, sure, but Charlie and Dave were on the radio last year, and the MASN broadcast booth hasn’t changed since then.

So where does this leave us? Here are more radio voices.

“How could it be that 1 in 3 people said feh, don’t need it this year?” Andy Pollin asked, also on ESPN 980. “Thirty-four percent for a team that’s good? It doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s significant, and I have no clue why,” ESPN 980′s Thom Loverro said.

“I have no idea,” SportsBusiness Journal’s John Ourand said on 106.7 The Fan. “The Nationals are in first place, it’s a good baseball team, you have established stars….There’s really no reason that they should be down as far as they’re down right now.”

Which brings me to the most convincing suggestion I’ve heard about the big TV drop, and the big radio surge: maybe the ratings just aren’t 100 percent accurate. That seems as likely to me as all these other suggestions.

Anyhow, I would cancel all the big-picture “What does this say about D.C. as a sports town?” segments.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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