- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The Washington Nationals, winless so far on the field, also were early losers on television.

The Nationals posted a local TV rating of 1.7 and 5 share for their season-opening game Monday in Philadelphia against the Phillies, shown on WDCA-TV (Channel 20). The number translates to about 38,000 households, a sum representing a mere fraction of the audiences for local afternoon TV staples like “Oprah,” “Judge Judy,” and “General Hospital.”

The number also was dwarfed by the Baltimore Orioles, who posted a 9.4 local rating and 22 share on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), translating to an audience of about 102,000 households, for its Monday season opener, played at the same time as Washington’s.

Far below what many industry executives expected, the weak TV turnout for the Nationals’ official debut is an indictment of the late-arriving deal between Major League Baseball and the Orioles to allow the Nationals on TV. The Nationals’ local TV distribution spent a half-year in limbo while MLB and the Orioles squabbled over territorial rights for the Mid-Atlantic region.

The result of those extended talks was the creation last week of Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, a regional network that will show both the Orioles and Nationals and will be controlled primarily by the Orioles. But the 11th hour deal-making did not allow WDCA to conduct any meaningful levels of marketing. The Fox-owned UPN affiliate did not even release its Nationals schedule until late Friday, less than three days before the Nationals began their inaugural season.

“You look at the [Orioles’ and Nationals’ numbers], and it’s a clear example of what happens when you can promote versus when you can’t,” said Bob Whitelaw, an MASN executive. “We had no time to do any kind of promotion for the Nationals Monday. We didn’t even have the game on Channel 20, officially, until 6 p.m. on Friday. That leaves you no time to do anything. And by comparison, WJZ knew about their Orioles game well in advance, did all sorts of cross-promotion, a one-hour pregame show. It’s totally different. I’m not worried at all about the Nationals. I see only great things ahead.”

WDCA general manager Duffy Dyer did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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.

The Nationals’ rating Monday did show marked improvement over the usual weekly afternoon programming for WDCA, which includes airings of “Family Feud,” “Fear Factor,” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” The game also beat several individual competing programs on WBDC-TV (Channel 50) and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) but lagged far behind 5 p.m. newscasts on WTTG-TV (Channel 5), WRC-TV (Channel 4) and WJLA-TV (Channel 7)

“I don’t know how anyone can really use this as an accurate barometer,” Nationals president Tony Tavares said. “This all arrived to us so late. I don’t think most ordinary fans had any idea [the telecast] was even out there.”

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