By Dan Steinberg and Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The Washington Nationals finally got a dash of good news yesterday: Their regional television ratings are up 56 percent from a year ago, the second-biggest jump among the 29 U.S.-based Major League Baseball teams. But during a season notable for disastrous news on and off the field, even that nugget was tempered by a dose of reality.
Nationals' broadcasts on MASN and MASN2 are still averaging just a 0.53 rating and 12,000 households in the Washington market, numbers that are by far the worst in the major leagues. Aside from the Oakland Athletics -- who have the American League's worst record -- every U.S.-based MLB team has attracted a television audience more than twice as big as the Nationals'.
The television data, published yesterday by Sports Business Journal, fits alongside a host of other figures that quantifies this disappointing season. The Nationals' record is last in the National League, and is on pace to be one of the worst in MLB history. The Nationals currently rank 27th in the league in attendance, with easily the biggest decrease of any club from a season ago.
Even importing one warm body from every household that's tuning into to an average broadcast and adding that person to the existing average crowd would not fill Nationals Park; no other franchise faces a similar situation. In the Washington market, even the Baltimore Orioles (with a 0.75 rating) out-draw the Nationals.
The TV figures -- which do not include potential MASN viewers outside the Washington market or those who are watching games over the Internet -- at least had some positives. Only the Texas Rangers, who have shot to first place in the AL West, have seen a bigger increase in their regional television rankings than the Nationals.
The audience jump can be attributed to numerous factors. Because more fans are staying away from Nationals Park, more are inclined to watch on television. This season, MASN has made several improvements to its broadcast, installing an in-stadium studio in left-center field, bringing some of its camera angles closer to the field, employing a super-slow motion camera, and broadcasting 105 games in high-definition. (In 2008, 40 Nationals broadcasts appeared in HD.)
MASN also changed a part of its broadcast team during the offseason. Don Sutton left the network, and MASN replaced him with the outspoken Rob Dibble -- whose uncurbed criticism of the team has drawn favorable response, based on online and blog comments.
"He brings a style and a panache to the broadcast and he's been very well-received," MASN spokesman Todd Webster said.
Collectively, baseball's television ratings on regional sports networks are down two percent, Sports Business Journal reported, although more than half of the league's teams have seen their ratings increase. The publication said that comparable ratings figures for the Toronto Blue Jays were not available. The Nationals declined to comment on their television ratings.
Still, the rating and the audience size for the Nationals remains behind those of Washington's other major sports franchises. The Orioles, whose games also appear on MASN and MASN2, have baseball's third-smallest audience in their home market, but their average of 34,000 households is still nearly three times that of the Nationals'.
The Washington Capitals averaged a 1.1 rating on Comcast SportsNet and CSN+, equivalent to more than 25,000 households in the D.C. market, in their 71 broadcasts this season, the highest in Comcast SportsNet history. Despite missing the playoffs and finishing with one of the NBA's worst records, the Washington Wizards' drew an average rating of 0.9 in the D.C. market for their 78 games airing on CSN, CSN+ and CW.
The four regular-season D.C. United games that have aired on CSN this season have drawn an average rating of 0.1 in the Washington market, or about 2,500 households.