I have avoided weighing in on the reports of the shockingly low TV ratings for the Nationals on MASN, in part because I really didn’t have much to add. All of the explanations we’ve seen, from the poor play of the team, the infancy of the network and the relative lack of visibility are probably all accurate. There can’t be one specific reason that only 9,000 households are tuning in to games.
But I do have one theory that hasn’t really been touched on elsewhere.
It is my belief that in most major league cities, watching baseball games has simply become part of the basic summertime lifestyle for many people. This is particularly true in markets where there is a long baseball tradition. How is it that the Orioles, who air on the same network, draw 33,000 households when the Nationals draw just 9,000? Well, it’s because in Baltimore, there are thousands of people who watch games simply because it’s always been part of their routine. They come home from work, they turn on the ballgame. It doesn’t matter who’s pitching, it doesn’t matter whether the team stinks, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. It’s like breathing.
I have first-hand experience with this because I am married to an Orioles fan who learned this nightly habit from her father and grandfather, who probably learned it from people in their family. The love of baseball is something that is passed on more than it is acquired.
It helps, of course, that the Orioles have a tradition of winning that stretches through the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. Things have been tough for Os fans in recent years, but there will always be a core group of fans that will follow the team out of sheer habit.
I grew up in Philadelphia, and it was the same way. The Phillies stunk throughout most of the 1980s, but my summer nights were spent tuning into to games because, well, that’s what people did. They’ve been doing it since games first went on the air 60 years ago.
In Washington, watching baseball is not yet part of people’s lifestyles. It will take a stretch of success, and most likely the passing of a generation or two. And for that reason it would not be surprising if the Nats remain at the bottom of local TV ratings for years to come.