Monday, April 11, 2005

The Washington Nationals still are struggling on local television, with ratings for their weekend series at Florida lagging well behind their local network competition.

Friday’s game drew a 1.8 rating and 3 share (40,349 TV households), Saturday’s a 2.2 rating and 4 share (49,315) and Sunday’s a 0.8 rating and 2 share (17,933).

Each game easily was beaten, and in some cases more than tripled, in viewers by local hallmarks of weekend TV like “Jeopardy,” “The McLaughlin Group,” and “Cops.” All of the Nationals’ games were shown on WDCA-TV (Channel 20).

The Nationals did score a few wins over the weekend, outdrawing NBC’s coverage Sunday of the Arena Football League, syndicated repeats of “The Drew Carey Show” and “The Simpsons” on Saturday on WTTG-TV (Channel 5), and the Washington Wizards’ game against Philadelphia on WBDC-TV (Channel 50) the same night.

The ratings represent a shock for many industry observers who believed the team’s viewership on TV would match the frenetic sales seen for merchandise and tickets.

The weak numbers also could hamper efforts by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the new regional outlet producing the Nationals’ telecasts, to gain distribution through cable and satellite providers.

WDCA has engaged in almost no meaningful marketing of the TV games, and yesterday its Web site ( still showed listings for UPN entertainment programs like “One on One” and “Cuts” instead of the Nationals-Braves game that was added last week to the TV schedule.

“It’s still too soon, I think, to draw any major conclusions,” said Bob Whitelaw, an MASN executive leading the network’s day-to-day operations. “We’re still less than two weeks into this thing, and where we’re at now in the whole production and presentation of these games is not where we’re ultimately going to be. It’s only going to get better.”

The Nationals’ TV schedule was not established until April 1, just three days before Opening Day, because of six months of tough negotiation between Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles over control of TV territorial rights to the Mid-Atlantic region.

Duffy Dyer, WDCA general manager, said radio promotions and various forms of outdoor advertising are in the works for the Nationals. He also said he believed Washington is still something of an American League town.

“We’re really sort of introducing the National League and its teams to this market. There’s an education going on,” Dyer said. “It’s going to take some time, but we’re patient. We have a multiyear agreement with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and we’re in this for the long haul.”

The low ratings also create a marked juxtaposition against the public outcry from several local officials, most notably D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, over the lack of Nationals TV games beyond the 79 slated for WDCA and a handful of contests pegged for Fox and ESPN.

Washington’s season-opening game drew a 1.7 rating and 5 share (38,107 TV households). The ratings number represents a percentage of TV homes in each market tuned to a particular program, while the share denotes the viewership percentage among TVs in use.

Meanwhile, MASN has hired Kenny Albert, seen on Fox Sports’ NFL coverage and the NFL Network, as a second play-by-play man to fill in for lead announcer Mel Proctor. Albert, who is scheduled to call six Nationals games, began with last night’s contest in Atlanta. Albert’s hire became necessary because Proctor is completing the season as the radio voice of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.

The Orioles, who began the season without a Washington-area TV presence, now plan to have about 60 games on the local PAX affiliate, WPXW-TV (Channel 66).

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