Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Washington Nationals’ celebrated home opener Thursday night proved a hit with television viewers as well.

Rebounding sharply after several previous anemic showings, ratings for the Nationals’ 5-3 win over Arizona on WDCA-TV (Channel 20) posted a local rating of 7.1 and 11 share (159,154 TV households).

The game did not beat all its competition on network television, as some team and WDCA officials had hoped, trailing audiences for “Survivor” and “CSI” on CBS and “The Apprentice” on NBC. In particular, “CSI,” usually the top-rated show on television, more than doubled the Nationals’ TV audience in Washington.

But the game beat the entire prime-time lineups of WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and WJLA-TV (Channel 7), and gave a solid base for future growth. The contest also easily outdistanced audiences for the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays playing on Comcast SportsNet and a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game on ESPN. Thursdays are typically the most competitive TV night.

“These numbers prove Washington is the home of strong and passionate baseball fans. These are excellent opening ratings that can compare with any place in the country,” said Vince Wladika, a spokesman for the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which produces Nationals telecasts. “We started the season at a disadvantage, but numbers like this prove Washington will turn out to support their team.”

For their season opener at Philadelphia on the afternoon of April 4, the Nationals posted a local TV rating of 1.7 and 5 share on Channel 20. Those numbers translated to about 38,000 households.

Unlike the first batch of Nationals games on the WDCA schedule, Thursday’s contests benefited from noticeable promotion efforts from the station, as well as a near-constant level of coverage from local news outlets.

Each of Washington’s local network affiliates assigned news crews to RFK Stadium to cover the Nationals opener, with stories airing almost continuously from 5 a.m. Thursday to 11:30 p.m.

WDCA itself, however, did not run any meaningful pregame coverage, boiling the first pitch from President Bush and the introduction of former Washington Senators players into a brief opening segment. WDCA’s coverage of the game began at 7 p.m., six minutes before Livan Hernandez’s first pitch. Pregame shows are expected to begin once MASN gains distribution on cable and satellite providers.

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