Can You Explain Why You Rip the Nationals' Fan Base?

Can You Explain Why You Rip the Nationals' Fan Base?

I understand that attendance is a point of pride for sports fans, and I understand why.

It's the opportunity to say that we, as a fan base, are loyal. That we care. That we even go so far as to impact the product on the field by giving the organization more of our money, which it, in turn, can potentially use to improve the club.

Those are the positives. As for the negatives — well, I suppose there's bandwagoning. Bandwagoning irks me. So much so that whenever a town is lauded for having "great fans," I almost compulsively cross-reference attendance charts with the last time one of its teams wasn't very good.

But when it comes to a population being generally apathetic about a franchise — what's the problem? How or why does it impact you in another town that has a team? Sure, it impacts the particular league in question, and if you're arguing for the greater benefit of that entity, then there's a real discussion to be had about under-performing franchises, assuming they're really under-performing. I just don't think many of those ripping the Washington Nationals are suggesting that the team be moved to another obvious market. Let's also acknowledge that the Nationals are the least of baseball's worries. (I'm looking at you Tampa Bay.)

Through 78 home games in 2012 (this chart I'm referencing has not yet been updated with the Nats' final series against the Phillies), the Nationals have drawn an average attendance of 29,919, the 14th-highest in the majors.

For the last week, articles like this have been pouring out, reporting that Nats playoffs seats are the hottest tickets in D.C., that the club is claiming they're sold out with the exception of some outrageously pricey seats, and that StubHub is selling them from anywhere between $63 and $500.

Social media and internet comment boards have their benefits, but, as many of us have come to realize, we all probably share just a little too much. Much of the sharing I've noticed related to Washington's empty seats as it clinched the division involved the words "embarrassing" and "pathetic" and "disgraceful."

There appear to be two concerns here:

1. The Nationals fans are "pathetic" because they don't show up in sufficient numbers to support a team about to win the division, as judged by those in another town.
2. The Nationals are now about to sell out a playoff game but didn't draw during the year (bandwagoning).

If it's indeed the case, why is apathy to be condemned? It's possible people in Washington don't like baseball. It's also true that Washington is a particularly tricky town considering its population is, understandably, a bit more transient, and may have allegiances elsewhere. Then there are the points that no one was really clamoring for a team in Washington when the Expos moved there, that there's a semi-complicated geographic and emotional split with the Orioles based on how people react to Peter Angelos, and that it can just take time to grow a fan base. As Dave Murphy pointed out Wednesday, rooting for teams in Philadelphia is part of a generations-long culture. That is not the case with baseball in Washington.

History or no history, I cannot stress enough just how possible it is that a population will simply not care about a particular sport or team. Take, for example, your Philadelphia 76ers, who don't really seem like your Philadelphia 76ers judging by the last five years of attendance. On a different scale, compare the number of comments on articles or blog posts about the Sixers to those on pieces about the other teams in town. You'll notice something: there's generally fewer in total, but a higher number of the "who cares?" variety. Of course, with the roster reshape and the addition of Andrew Bynum, it would be a surprise not to see the Sixers' attendance receive a bump, just as it did during last season and, to a greater extent, the playoffs.

And this gets us to the bandwagoning angle, which given Washington's reported playoff sellouts we now need to consider in tandem with the prior apathy. In short, there's a whole lot of hypocrisy related to fan loyalty. When teams are bad for prolonged stretches, with rare exceptions, fans stop showing up. This is not necessarily unforgivable behavior, as there are justifications for it. Going to games can be expensive even when the tickets themselves are fairly cheap. Then there are concerns over continuing to fund an under-performing franchise — this is a conversation we have about a certain team in this town every so often.

No win is as satisfying as the one you struggled for. The 2008 World Series wouldn't have been nearly as sweet for so many without the 25 preceding years of city failure. No win, for me, will be nearly as meaningful as a Stanley Cup, just as no win, for others, will be more euphoric than a Super Bowl. So I judge the guy in the purple flat brim and black Hunter Pence t-shirt. (Obviously this a stereotype, and, no, it doesn't apply to all black-shirt and purple-hat owners.) In some ways, my behavior is juvenile, as people are allowed to enjoy things in different ways and spend their time and cash however they like. In other ways, it's justified, like when I cannot find a ticket or incur added cost for something I used to enjoy for a lower price relative to a smaller demand. In that same breath, there's an added value to the extra people who show up when times are good — free agent signings are expensive.

My hangups aside, there are reasons why people don't show up to sporting events, in this market and others. Maybe it's because they don't care — and who can condemn? Maybe they won't pay for mediocrity — an arguable but under certain circumstances acceptable point. Maybe they don't have the emotional ties after eight years of a really terrible existence — that's not unusual. And maybe a lot of fans really are just bandwagoners — but those people are everywhere.

If the Nats are good for another five years, their fans will probably have you believe they were in it from the beginning. That doesn't sound unfamiliar does it? Then again, if they stay for the long-haul, then their fandom had to start somewhere.

Finally, on top of it all, there's the curious question of how or why we separate or combine the success of the players on the field with their fan base. And that is a much longer, more complicated discussion.

Whatever the answer, no town is immune from a certain level of apathy nor from bandwagoning. Philadelphians, myself included, are no better.

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Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).