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Behind the Nats TV Number (Again)


The 2007 D.C. DMA.

Since other people keep writing about the Lonely 9,000, I'm gonna keep writing about it too. And for the severalth time, I'm not reveling in this at all, because small fan base = small blog base.

Oh, and because some of you have asked, here's a handy map of the "local" audience we all kept referring to: in 207, it referred to 33 counties and seven cities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C., totaling a bit more than 2.3 million households. That's the base from which the Lonely 9,000 are drawn.

Also, many of you have written to say that HD issues are largely to blame. Bearing in mind the relatively small penetration for HD sets (estimates from 17 to 36 percent, but mostly on the lower side) and the fact that 25 percent of Nats games are actually in HD, this would seem to be only partially to blame at best.

Anyhow, WSJ Numbers Guy Carl Bialik goes behind the Nielsen numbers to find out exactly how they were created.

With any Nielsen sports rating, there are caveats: Sports bars aren't included; other homes outside the metro area could have been tuned in; and there is some statistical error in the measurement, which takes on greater importance as the audience shrinks.

A minuscule local rating of 9,000 had me wondering just how few Nielsen homes were tuned into the typical Nationals broadcast. Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes told me that there are 600 households reporting TV viewing to the company in the D.C. area, meaning just two or three households were tuned into the average game. That means Nielsen can be 95% confident that the true Nationals rating falls somewhere between 0.04 and 0.74, according to Mr. Holmes. In other words, "We are 95% confident that the actual household audience is between 17,081 and 923 homes."

Two or three households. Imagine the responsibility. So if just one diehard Nats fan and his/her child living in a Nielsen household decided the loss of Shawn Hill was just too big an impediment to nightly viewing, the rating would plummet. Alternatively, if the family of Collin Balester relocated to Fairfax, became a Nielsen household and tuned in nightly, the rating would soar. Either way, the Nielsen number crunchers are 95 percent sure that the Nats have, by far, the least number of regional sports network households of any MLB team. Please continue to doubt Nielsen if you so choose.

Meantime, just in case you MASN doubters hadn't seen, Marc Fisher tracked down more details about the differences between Orioles and Nats broadcasts, according to MASN. And, according to MASN, there are none. So put that excuse to bed.

Webster says he checked with the executive producer of the broadcasts and found that indeed the same technology is used in both O's and Nats casts, including the Pitch Track feature that documents where each pitch lands and the pitch speed graphic, both of which Nats fans find to be a regular presence on the Orioles games, but rarely used in the Washington broadcasts.

"The Nats do get the cool pitch tracker technology," Webster says. "It's an $80,000 piece of equipment that is used by both teams, like a replay, at the discretion of the talent (which, in this case is Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton)." Maybe that's the issue--the O's broadcasters use the toy more and more wisely than do the Nats' crew. In any case, the bottom line is that, to a fan's eyes, one broadcast has more bells and whistles than the other.

Webster catalogues the ways in which the two teams' casts are the same: "The graphics are identical - except for the colors. All of the promos, ticket sales, community events, in-game inventory [are] identical --- both teams get an equal number of promotions. The identical number of games are shown on MASN and MASN2 for both teams - 100 games on MASN; 61 games on MASN2; 40 games on MASNHD."

Meantime, the Examiner's Jim Williams also offered a MASN-centric view of the broadcasts, and especially of the annoyingly high camera angle at Nats Park.

Tim Scanlan the ESPN Vice President, Event Production who over see's the networks baseball coverage told me "The new Nationals Park provides us with some very challenging camera angles due to the height of the press box camera is quite high and somewhat awkward looking. Not unlike Pittsburgh and some of the other new ball parks. All the other camera locations are fine it just seem like high home was not considered when they built the park." So for those who wanted to know about the funky angle from the high home game camera it is because the press box is high the camera has a limited range, it is that simple.

I have spoken to a number of radio and TV broadcasters and production people and they say that Nationals Park is beautiful and a great park for the fans. However, it has worst and most poorly planned out broadcast location in baseball....

By contrast when they were building Oriole Park Bill Brown who was then the Executive Producer of Home Team Sports (the forerunner to CSN) was involved with every aspect of the construction of the park. He was able to turn the new stadium into a state of the art television studio. The camera angles at Oriole Park are some of the best in all of baseball and fans can thank Brown (now the Senior Producer for FOX Sports) for that. It is too bad that the team in charge of building the Nationals Park did not include the television people in their construction meetings.

And this was the first mention I'd seen of the construction people being to blame for the low ratings. But heck, there are enough missing viewers to blame virtually everyone.

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 15, 2008; 5:16 PM ET
Categories:  Media , Nats  
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Comments

Peter Angelo$ keeping the Nats off of TV for nearly 2 seasons is the #1 reason.

Posted by: WFY | July 15, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

funny that's all the bigger the Nat's map is.

I mean, up in Cecil Country (right next to Dan's beloved U/D), we get MASN. And Comcast. And used to get HTS on our cable.

Of course, we're technically in the Wilmington TV market, which is really part of the Philly TV Market.

Posted by: odessasteps magazine | July 15, 2008 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Cut that out! It hurts.

Posted by: Dead Horse | July 15, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Whether the number is 9K or 20K, it's still pretty low. I don't doubt that the Nats have the lowest ratings in the league. The cause is a combination of bad baseball, poor marketing and the general malaise that surrounded the club from the time they relocated here. Bottom line is that, on TV, the club is a poor draw.

I am more curious as to the damage that is doing to Angelos, since he is the majority owner of the MASN network, and he still has to pay a minimum annual 21M+ fee to the Lerners for the broadcast rights for the Nats. Surely, he - and thus the Orioles - are losing money based on the ratings.

Posted by: Maximus | July 15, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

The Post won't delve into that, because they are afraid that I will sue them. Much safer and more fun to rag on Nats fan.

Posted by: NR Angelo$ | July 15, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

I watch most Nats games, and I have no clue what everyone is talking about when it comes to this "high camera".

Posted by: Bradley | July 15, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

you can't even spell Collin Balester correctly. Nice job blogboy.

Posted by: that's a shame | July 15, 2008 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm not counted???? I live in Anne Arundel County and I'm a Nats fan who faithfully watches. I know I'm not the only one...there are many parts of Anne Arundel County that considers itself DC Metro area, not Baltimore metro....

Posted by: Anne Arundel | July 15, 2008 9:30 PM | Report abuse

C'mon, Dan. Not your best effort.

Citing the words of a MASN flak whose office is in the farkin' warehouse about how beautiful and terrific their coverage isn't exactly locking that case down.

Same thing with Jim Williams. Dude might have more Emmies than me, but if he was carrying any more water, he'd be a camel.

Posted by: Chris | July 15, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Dan,

While I don't think this would have a massive effect on the ratings, after watching a couple games this week on Channel 20 (and not being able to watch the postgame show because the blackout was still improperly in effect on MASN), I started to wonder whether these ratings count the ratings games on Channel 20 receive, or the ratings just on MASN. If that's the case, aren't the ratings for MASN one or two nights a week a big fat zero, because when the game is on 20, it's not on MASN? Like I said, I did some math and I don't think this would change the ratings more than a few thousand homes, but it wouldn't surprise me if this skewed the ratings somehow.

Posted by: Fingerman | July 15, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Hey, just figured the links might be interesting. Maybe not. I'm sort of not getting paid for today, since I'm on forced vacation, so it's not like the Post didn't get their money's worth.

Duly noted on Balester, although don't forget I wrote about him nearly two years ago, and I managed to spell his name right back then.

And if you can prove that any of what the MASN flak (whose office is not in the warehouse or anywhere close to Baltimore) says is factually incorrect, have at it. I literally never watch the Orioles broadcasts, so I was unable to say whether the graphics and doo-dads were different. Many readers claimed they were. Unless Todd has adopted a media strategy of outright lying, I'm guessing they're not.

Posted by: Dan Steinberg | July 15, 2008 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The first part's fair game.

You're right about the MASN flak. He's a hired gun who works for the suits in the warehouse. The post commenter regrets the error.

He's right about the raw numbers of broadcasts. They're divided evenly, and they made a lot of that when they announced it. But the quality of the broadcasts are different. The Orioles games generally have a sharper picture. Overall, though, the picture quality of MASN sucks as hard as Luis Ayala.

Posted by: Chris | July 16, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I live in the District and subscribe to only basic cable. I get one MASN channel, and that's MASN 1, which only covers the Orioles games. Often, when the Nationals play, their games are broadcast on C-SPAN 2, while the rest of the time, the programming is all C-SPAN content.

Posted by: DCLance | July 16, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

What were the numbers for DC United vs Atlante FC last night on Telefutura ?

Posted by: thesportsaffiliate.com | July 16, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Watching baseball on TV is like watching paint dry. ESPN is going to show all of the exciting plays anyway.

Posted by: Comment | July 16, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

That HD penetration # looks low. I'm hardly a leading edge technology guy, but I and most people I know have at least 1 HD set. For a team coming of age in a wealthy TV market in the HD era, it's inexcusable to not have every home game broadcast this way. Start there....

As far as the rest of Dan's post, it's just amazing the types of rationale that are being used to justify these (debatable) figures. At the end of the day, if you're a Nat's fan you can only hope it will drive some effort/money from the team's end into the marketing and presentation of the team and the telecasts. And encourage fellow fans to not take the team for granted....

Posted by: Stalk Much? | July 16, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Watching baseball on TV is like watching paint dry. ESPN is going to show all of the exciting plays anyway.

Posted by: Comment | July 16, 2008 10:54 AM

Funny - about 233,000 people a night in New England watch baseball on TV. So somehow, I don't think it's the game itself. You might also think cricket is boring, but about about a billion people watch when India and Pakistan play each other.

Posted by: Kev | July 16, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

@DCLance:

There are just as many orioles games on MASN as there are Nationals games. If the Nats want people to watch the game in numbers comparable to other MLB teams, they need to field a team with as much talent as other comparable MLB teams. When you bring a team into a market with no history, you aren't going to get anybody watching after the first year or so unless the team is really good. None of us grew up on the sport, and those that remember the Senators have long been broken of the habit.

Posted by: FS | July 16, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that the ESPN guy thinks there was any kind of thought put into the Nat park, where in reality, it was all pretty much done on the fly due to time constraints.

Maybe the Nats are withholding their rent until the camera locations are nifty.

Freelabor Dan, the MASN game numbers add up to 161, where's the mystery game for each team?

Posted by: Kim | July 16, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

First of all, my faithful following of the Nats on Extra Innings on Comcast is excluded from these numbers. For the most part, that's fair, since all out-of-market numbers are excluded.

(I should say, though, that a Boston fan living in, let's say Shreveport, Louisiana, can simply follow the team on the Red Sox network, ESPN. Maybe some attention should be paid to those, like me, who are willing to pay to watch the lowly Nats out of market.)

Interesting about the park planning perspective. I almost fault MASN officials for not getting in on the planning of Nats Park. Angelos can only make money from better Nationals coverage, since he has such an obscene share of Nats TV revenues, but they booted this easy opportunity.

Posted by: John in Mpls | July 16, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Re: Peter Angelo$ keeping the Nats off of TV for nearly 2 seasons is the #1 reason.
Weren't 81 games shown on Channel 20 during the first year?

Re #2: Angelos can only make money from better Nationals coverage, since he has such an obscene share of Nats TV revenues

How much profit can there be for a show with 9000 viewers? For that, he's giving the Nats $25 million a year. He ought to sue them.

Posted by: bowiemd1 | July 16, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Probably both the Os and the Nats suffer a bit from a residual vendetta against MASN on the part of Comcast.

MASN2 of course is not labelled on the cable info (it is labelled "C-SPAN2" in Arlington and I think elsewhere). Yes, that is becuase that channel normally carries C-SPAN2, but if it labelled both identities, it might be easier to find.

Also, it does not help MASN that MASN is located at channel 62, nowhere near ESPN, ESPN2, and CSN (10 - 12). The placement of CSN near ESPN does give the Caps, DCU, and Le Wiz an advantage on this point. I'm not saying Eureka on this point, but I suspect there is some effect. You'd think that if Comcast wanted to serve sports fans it'd make it easier to channel surf by stacking ESPN, ESPN2, CSN, and MASN in a row. That is how they handle the ESPN networks, NESN, and CSN in the Boston area. The arrangement here makes it difficult to flip among ESPN, the O's, and the Nats (the "Last" button let's you rock between 2 stations, not 3, and you have to pick the right number).

Curious if this is just an Arlington problem. How is it with other Comcast systems in the area?

Posted by: PTBNL | July 16, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Omar Minaya should be discussed here; I bet a lot of people would tune in to see a team with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Milton Bradley, Jason Bay, and Chris Young.

This is an outsider's opinion, but the broadcasts seem fine, other than the boring promotional ads (don't try to be cute, just show game footage) and the crap team on the field.

Posted by: Michigander | July 16, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: Maggie | July 17, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Dan please read my latest article on the Nats over at RealGM:

http://baseball.realgm.com/src_teamarticle/468/20080716/last_in_wins_first_in_disappointment/

Posted by: Mischa | July 17, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

What a difference watching Nats baseball in HD makes. As a FIOS customer, I only get to see this once in a blue moon when they are on MY20 in HD. FIOS does not support MASNHD.

I know Dan has minimized the whole HD issue in his discussion of 9000 viewers, but like many thinks, he is wrong. It is a huge issue. Team sucks big time and that is the big issue, yet games in HD would help catch the passing fan's interest for sure.

Dan's whole use of Stats on HD no being an is not an issue because less than 30% of homes have it is wrong.......again just bad use of stats on his part. People who have HD watch sports and they are the ones who count!

Posted by: JayB | July 19, 2008 8:06 AM | Report abuse

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