Angelos: Go Nats (Sort Of)
Stranger things have happened, but not terribly often: Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos--the man who did everything in his power to stop Major League Baseball from returning to Washington and who now controls Washington Nationals' TV rights almost completely--now says he hopes the D.C. team succeeds.
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Angelos, who famously said that "there are no real baseball fans in Washington," now says that while he did fight the revival of the sport in Washington, "it is the nation's capital and the team is there and it ought to be supported, and hopefully both franchises will provide successful baseball."
It may not seem so terribly odd for Angelos to make conciliatory remarks now, given that he was given a whopping 90 percent share of MASN, the regional sports broadcast channel created to show both Orioles and Nationals games--his special gift for agreeing not to sue baseball over the relocation of the Nats to Washington.
But even though it is very much in Angelos' financial interest for the Nats to develop a fan base that supports his TV operation, the Orioles owner until now has seemed to have trouble mustering the words and deeds that might encourage such success. MASN's programming and advertising remain heavily weighted toward its Baltimore audience, even if the Washington region is vastly larger.
Of the 10 shows featured on the MASN web site, only one is about the Nats, and that's just the Nats post-game show. The channel features a full roster of Baltimore sports talk and coverage, but not a single program about the Nationals players, plans or past, and just one talk show focused on Washington sports (and that one, the John Riggins radio show repurposed for TV, centers largely on the Redskins). Compare that to the obsessive documentary, chat and insider shows that other regional sports networks specialize in.
Still, maybe Angelos is shifting gears. He now says Nationals Park is a lovely place and he has a friendly relationship with the owners of the Nationals, the Lerner family. He even grants O's fans permission to visit the Washington stadium without feeling disloyal to their home team. (Big of him.)
This is a sea change. Back during the District's chase of the Montreal Expos, Angelos grumbled to the Post about what he saw as Washington's greed: "Washington has the Capitol. It has the White House, Congress, the Smithsonian. It has the government office, museums and the Mall. What else does it want?"
What could be driving Angelos' charm campaign? Jealousy, perhaps? While the Nationals drew mediocre, half-full crowds to their first full set of games this week, the Nats' 23,000 crowds were a far sight better than the record low 10,505 the Orioles drew at home last week.
Or is it a whiff of panic about the still-declining fortunes of his once proud franchise? The Orioles are in the midst of a smart, long-overdue rebuilding effort on the field, but their attendance numbers are dismal, despite an unexpectedly splendid start this season.
Angelos is blaming the weather for the poor gate: "That's an example of the weather having a very depressing effect on attendance," he said. "We would have had very substantial crowds, the way we've been playing, had it not been for the weather."
It remains possible that Angelos will be proven right about the inability of the I-95 corridor to support two baseball franchises enough that both could be considered big market contenders. And perhaps he was right to see that the ultimate loser in that competition was likely to be the Orioles, simply because the Washington region is so much more populous than the Baltimore area.
But baseball analysts universally put the blame for the decline of the Orioles fan base squarely at the feet of the owner, who spent years emptying out a great franchise's talent pool and chasing away some of the team's most important assets, including managers, coaches and the best broadcaster in the game.
The Nats so far have relied on strong fan support primarily from the Virginia suburbs and the District. The real battleground for the future lies in Maryland, especially in the Montgomery and Prince George's county suburbs where fans naturally look toward Washington, but grew up identifying with the Orioles. Does Angelos now need to cultivate a more open and welcoming image for those potential customers? How will the Lerners respond? The next few years should be a good time to be a sports fan in the Maryland suburbs--who knows, a price war might even break out. Well, we can dream.
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