After the Nationals' recently concluded home series against the Diamondbacks, shortstop Ian Desmond had this to say: "I absolutely thought we'd see more [fans] this week. I thought when we were in first place, playing great baseball early on, they'd start coming out. I thought after the offseason acquisitions that people would start coming out. It's obviously something we have to work on as an organization. We've got to play better as players and continue to show them it's not a fluke.”
First-place status, notable offseason additions, the best rotation in baseball, and the arrival and early successes of Bryce Harper: It should all add up to more frequent clicking of the turnstiles, no? Yet the Washington Post notes that the Nats' average attendance through its first 12 home games of 2012 is a seemingly meager 23,839, compared to 24,877 for all of 2011. In light of those numbers, isn't Desmond's reaction understandable?
Not really, no. First, the foundation for the comparison is flawed. If you take the more appropriate approach and look at just the first 12 home games of last season, then you'll find that the Nats averaged 20,282 butts in seats. So in that sense, the Nationals are enjoying quite a boost. In fact, as pointed out in this Baseball Think Factory thread, the Nats rank fourth in all of MLB when it comes to percentage increase of attendance over year-ago levels.
In other words, you can't sensibly compare attendance numbers from an unseasonably cool April to those that encompass the onset of summer and beyond. When you do apply the proper end points, the 2012 Nats come out comfortably ahead.
On another level, while winning certainly begets better attendance (in places other than Tampa-St. Pete, anyway), it takes time, often a year or more. The Nats are coming off a seven-season stretch in which their average record has been 70-92. It takes more than a month of good baseball to overcome such a history. Given time, continued success and proper ticket pricing, the Nats will begin packing the ballpark on a regular basis.
You're seeing quite a few of these articles in recent days -- articles wondering aloud why the Nats aren't already enjoying the fruits of improved play. Well, in point of fact, they are, and things are going to get even better on the attendance front, so long as the team keeps winning.