- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

Patrick Nolan calls himself a die-hard Washington Nationals fan.The Arlington resident recounted the painful wait for a D.C. team and the numerous times he has gone to RFK Stadium this season to see his team play.

In the sweltering heat Tuesday, he was holding a cold beer up to his forehead in the outdoor bar at Grevey’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in Falls Church, where the Nationals game was playing on a large-screen television.

Mr. Nolan and most other Nationals fans can’t watch their new team in the comfort of their air-conditioned homes because most of the games aren’t televised locally.

“If it’s a home game, I usually go [to RFK],” Mr. Nolan said. “If it’s away and not on Fox or ESPN, I end up at a sports bar.”

UPN Channel 20, Fox and ESPN occasionally show the Nationals, and subscribers to RCN Cable, which reaches portions of the Washington area, can see all of the games. Otherwise, fans need a $34.99 DirecTV package to see the games, and even a few of those are blacked out.

The lack of access to Nationals games is a boon to sports bars. Mr. Nolan watches nine innings at the bar and spends about $20 that he wouldn’t have if he were able to watch at home.

But sports bars without access to DirecTV lose out on the crowds and the cash on game nights.

Comcast cable, which reaches the majority of Washington-area homes and bars, refuses to distribute the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the producer of Nationals’ games. MASN is co-owned by the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball, which also owns the Nationals.

Comcast sued the Orioles, saying MASN, which was designed to produce Orioles and Nationals games, is a violation of its deal with the Orioles. The Orioles prevailed Wednesday as a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge dismissed the Comcast lawsuit, but Comcast still has time to appeal.

Both MASN and Comcast say they want Nationals games to be televised.

In the meantime, Grevey’s bought the DirecTV package about a third of the way into the season.

“People were coming in and requesting the games,” said Erich Hippensteele, a Grevey’s manager. “We didn’t get it and we ended up ordering [the DirecTV package.]

“It seems like people are excited about the team. They want to come in for Nationals games.”

Sue and John Weis of Dunn Loring were at Grevey’s on Tuesday night, when the Nationals lost their first-place standing in the National League East to the Atlanta Braves.

“If the game was on Channel 20, we’d be watching it at home,” Mr. Weis said after ordering dinner during the second inning. “And I’d be able to watch the ninth inning. There’s no way we’ll still be here to watch the ninth inning.”

Some bars can’t get access to the games even if they wanted to. High-rise neighbors of the Irish Times, a bar near Union Station, block satellite reception.

Owner Brendan Kelly said that even though the season is more than half over, about 10 people come into the bar looking for Nationals games each weekend the team plays.

“Maybe they’ll stay, but they won’t come next time,” Mr. Kelly said. “We don’t get that residual business. They go into [their] office and say the Times doesn’t have it.”

Mr. Kelly estimated that he could make at least $100 extra per night if the Nationals were televised in his bar. With 162 games, that adds up to $16,200 per season.

About 40 bar and restaurant owners have signed on to Iwantmynatstv.com, a grass-roots campaign to get Nationals games aired on local or cable television.

Linda Farmer, general manager at Ramparts Restaurant & SportsBar in Alexandria and one of the campaign’s organizers, said televised Nationals games would benefit restaurants and promote a fan base for the District’s new team.

“With a new team coming to a town without baseball, it’s hard to get a fan base when some of the fans can’t watch at all,” Ms. Farmer said.

“We’re going to end up paying something anyway,” she said. “Let us see the Nationals games. People are excited about having a team.”

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