The seasons for the Nationals and the Redskins traditionally overlap for about the month of September, with Washington’s baseball team winding down and its football team cranking up. This year, as the Nationals push into the postseason for the first time since baseball returned to the District, the teams will play concurrently for longer — just at a point when the popularity of both appears on the rise.
With the two teams at home Sunday and playing simultaneously for the first time this year, a new Washington Post poll shows a significant increase in Washington area sports fans who view the Nationals and the Redskins favorably. For the Nationals, the percentage of fans who have a strongly favorable view of the team has doubled from a year ago — from 18 to 36 percent — rivaling even the Redskins, who have been entrenched in town for nearly 70 years longer.
Support for the Nationals rises and intensifies through their stellar season.
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The enthusiasm is easy to trace for both franchises. Since arriving in 2005, the Nationals haven’t had a winning season until this year, when they are close to clinching the National League East title. Buoyed by high-profile draft picks Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg and led by colorful veteran Manager Davey Johnson, they have been in first place all summer and could finish the season with the best record in baseball, a contender for what would be Washington’s first World Series title since 1924.
The Redskins, who won three Super Bowls a generation ago, traded for the right to draft Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III in April. Griffin’s spectacular regular season debut earlier this month brought new hope to a franchise that hasn’t won its division since 1999.
“The appeal factor is not just winning, to me personally,” said David Brandt, 53, of McLean. “It’s winning with the right kind of people. I think a lot of the [Redskins’] ascendance, and the Nats’ too, has to do with some of the characters involved. You’ve got people like RGIII, and the Harpers and the [Ryan] Zimmermans,” he said, referring to the Nationals third baseman, who has played his entire eight-year career in Washington. “That makes a huge difference, having the right people.”
While previous polls — as well as other measures, such as television ratings and merchandise sales — have long shown the Redskins to have a significant hold on the region’s sports fans, this season has helped the Nationals make inroads across a wide array of demographics, the poll showed. Sixty-six percent of sports fans hold a favorable view of the Nats, up from 61 percent last summer. The percentage of unfavorable views of the Nats fell to just 7 percent.
The jump in strongly favorable ratings for the Nationals is most pronounced among men. A year ago, just 15 percent of men had a strongly favorable view of the Nationals. That percentage rocketed to 45 percent this year. The increase is most significant among white men — a 36 percentage-point increase to 48 percent. More than half of white men 50 or older (54 percent) now hold strongly favorable views of the Nationals, a 38-point increase from last year.