Poll: Washington Nationals still have inroads to make with the region's fans

By Jennifer Agiesta and Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 4, 2010

With President Obama set to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Monday's opening day, and following a spring in which buzzworthy phenom Stephen Strasburg was a national story, the Washington Nationals' profile in the capital region may be at its highest since the franchise's inaugural season of 2005.

However, data from a Washington Post telephone poll of 1,107 area residents, conducted late last month, suggests the Nationals have a ways to go to become part of the region's collective psyche -- and not surprisingly, the team is only a fraction as popular as the Redskins.

While roughly three-quarters of poll respondents said bringing the Nationals to the District has been an overall good thing for the city, only slightly more than one-third of respondents (35 percent) said they have attended a Nationals game, and only 8 percent picked the Nationals as their favorite local professional sports team.

That ranks well behind the Redskins, who were picked by 31 percent of respondents, and also behind the Capitals (13 percent) -- but ahead of both the Wizards and D.C. United (5 percent each). Thirty-two percent of poll respondents said they don't prefer any of the local teams.

The Nationals, who moved here from Montreal before the 2005 season, have yet to post a winning record in their five seasons in the District, and in each of the past two seasons the team has lost more than 100 games. Additionally, the team's local television ratings have ranked a distant 30th out of Major League Baseball's 30 teams.

The Nationals were owned and operated by MLB during their first year and a half of their existence in Washington, before being sold to local real estate developer Theodore N. Lerner in July 2006. Under both MLB and the Lerner family, the team has consistently fielded payrolls ranked in the lower third of all teams.

The poll suggested the bulk of local support for the Nationals comes from Northern Virginia, as 43 percent of Virginia residents polled said they have attended at least one game, compared with 35 percent for District residents and just 28 percent for Marylanders.

Also not surprisingly, given baseball's struggles to connect with the African American community, only 2 percent of respondents who identified themselves as African American picked the Nationals as their favorite team, compared with 13 percent of whites, and black respondents were less than half as likely to say they have attended a Nationals game than white respondents -- 22 percent to 46 percent.

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