- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ripples from the Washington Nationals’ hot streak to end the season have improved television ratings and season-ticket sales and left executives anticipating a bigger splash in 2012.

“I think it’s more than numbers. It’s more than ticket sales,” Nationals Chief Operations Officer Andrew Feffer said. “People feel something special toward this team and the future, and they’re feeling like it’s real.”

Shrugging off a tumultuous season that included manager Jim Riggleman’s unexpected resignation June 23 and pitching ace Stephen Strasburg’s absence until Sept. 6, the Nationals finished the season on a 14-4 roll, winning Wednesday’s season finale 3-1 over the Florida Marlins. The Nationals’ final 80-81 record marks an 11-win improvement over 2010, which was itself a 10-victory step up from the 59-win teams in 2008 and 2009.

The number of viewers for Nationals broadcasts on MASN in September was 65 percent higher than this time last season. The network averaged 38,000 viewers in the D.C. area and 57,000 in the Mid-Atlantic region for each game this month, compared with 23,000 and 34,500 last season. Usually, MASN sees a significant drop in viewership when the Nationals are eliminated from contention and the NFL starts.

The numbers may seem small until you consider that the Nationals averaged 9,000 viewers in the D.C. area in 2008.

“We are excited, our sponsors are excited, and we are already seeing a lot more interest from advertisers looking to wrap their brand in Nats baseball,” MASN Senior Vice President John McGuinness wrote in an email.

Overall, the broadcasts averaged 45,000 viewers in D.C. and 67,500 in the Mid-Atlantic, a jump from last season’s 38,000/58,500. Growing the audience without the season-long benefit of Strasburg encouraged Mr. McGuinness.

“We are happier to see the entire team generating interest, rather than be dependent on one player,” he said.

Season tickets are being renewed at double the pace of last season, Mr. Feffer said. He declined to provide specific figures. A promotion where fans who buy two season tickets receive two season tickets for free has been particularly popular, he said.

“Fans see results both in the park and on the field,” Mr. Feffer said. “There is a palpable energy in the park.”

Yes, the 1,940,478 tickets sold for Nationals Park this season ranked 14th of 16 National League teams. But attendance improved to 27,946 fans per game in 11 home dates during the hot streak, compared with the season average of 24,256 fans. That included 37,638 tickets sold for the home finale, buoyed by free Strasburg T-shirts for the first 10,000 fans, an allotment of $2 tickets and a host of other promotions.

Strasburg wasn’t the driving factor behind the late-season attendance spurt. In his four home starts in September, the Nationals averaged 28,848 fans. Last season, when overall attendance was lower, Strasburg’s starts averaged 33,446 fans, a jump of more than 10,000 fans above the season average.

Mr. Feffer doesn’t expect the Nationals to adjust any offseason advertising campaigns because of the late surge.

Merchandise sales are strong, he said, while not providing numbers.

“We’re building a fan base where there wasn’t one all these years,” Mr. Feffer said. “[Ticket] sales are extremely strong. They’re the strongest they’ve been since the opening of Nationals Park [in 2008].”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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