The Washington Nationals have reached the 2014 All-Star break tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The Nats' record of 51-42 is in contrast with the 49-48 record they had at the All-Star break in 2013, when they were six games behind the Braves.
A July 14 report published in the SportsBusiness Journal by John Ourand showed the local TV ratings for MLB's 29 U.S. franchises, excluding the Toronto Blue Jays.
The report showed the Nationals' ratings in the Washington, D.C., television market on MASN/MASN2 and WUSA are averaging a 1.90 rating, which is down 34 percent from the same point last season. That put the team in 27th place in MLB for rating change from 2013, ahead of the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"While there are a number of factors that go into figuring out ratings, in the case of the Nationals, I really think it comes down to two things," Ourand said. "First, you have the Washington Wizards going deep into the NBA Playoffs, which took fans away. And then you have this month's World Cup, where Washington was the city with the highest local ratings than any other market in the country. Fans only have a limited amount of time to watch sports in a day, and the Nationals were in competition for the attention of the Washington sports community."
Ourand said he expected the ratings to rebound after the All-Star break, because the Nationals are in position to compete for a playoff spot, and many of the players who were injured at the start of the season are now healthy.
Someone who shared Ourand's optimism that the Nationals' ratings would get better is John McGuinness, MASN vice president and general sales manager.
"If you look at the last time the Nationals were in a similar position at the break (in 2012), and applied the same growth to current ratings, the Nationals will establish new all-time highs across every key demographics," McGuinness said.
McGuinness said even though the ratings had dropped off, the Nationals' success on the field had helped MASN attract sponsors.
"Partnering with MASN goes much deeper than simply delivering eyeballs," McGuiness said. "The advertising community understands this. They know we watch their schedules carefully and always over-deliver on whatever was agreed upon."
McGuinness also talked about the difference between sports broadcasts on national networks and those on regional networks.
"Local home-team sports create a powerful lean-forward, edge-of-your-seat viewing experience -- an experience you cannot find anywhere else on TV (live sports or otherwise)," McGuiness said. "There's a special connection that occurs -- one that heightens awareness, enhances an image, influences purchasing decisions and sponsors' bottom lines.
"Think about it. Local fans have skin in the game. They win and lose with their teams. They talk as if they took part in the game -- 'I can't believe we came back last night,' 'We never gave up,' 'We are on a roll' -- because they did, in their own special way."
Another factor to take into account when gauging a team's success is attendance, said Victor DiMaio, the president of DiMaio and Associates, a political consulting and audience analysis firm based in Tampa, Fla.
"TV ratings are certainly one factor to look at, but to me, the real key to success is putting butts in the seats," DiMaio said. "If you use the MLB attendance figures through 48 [home] games thus far in 2014, the Nationals have had 1,465,135 fans watch games at Nationals Park. Should they continue to be in the hunt for a postseason playoff spot, there is no reason that should not draw around 2.5 million fans, and they might even surpass last year's 2.6 million number.
"I also ran the attendance projections on the Orioles, and they look to exceed the 2.5 million mark as well. So that means five million fans in the mid-Atlantic region will attend at least one baseball game this season. That shows Major League Baseball is alive and well in the mid-Atlantic region."