Even if you’ve only read a few of these rants, you probably realize that I live in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I certainly have not earned any kind of “homer” title there given my less than kind remarks about the area as a “sports town” – - it’s a really bad one. Washington DC is a town for winners; the losers go home and wait for another few years to run in elections one more time trying to become winners again in order to return to the city. It is a town of front-runners that supports only winning teams with only one exception – - the Washington Redskins.
I’m not qualified to give you some kind of deep sociological explanation as to why the Redskins are different from all the other sports teams in the area; all I can tell you is that they are. Even if the Redskins were to go about 15 years only making the playoffs twice and spending the majority of that time under .500, they would still draw huge crowds to every game and enjoy a huge and rabid following in the town. In fact, that is just what the Redskins have done for the last 15 years…
Every other team has to win to get significant attention. When MLB was ready to put the Expos into Washington, I said that the team would have great support for the first year and then attendance would drop until the team was good or until there was a new stadium to be the attraction for fans. That is exactly what has happened. This year the Washington Nationals averaged less than 25,000 fans per game; it is the second consecutive year of declining attendance and at lots of games – not just the Cubs and Mets who have a national following – the number of fans rooting for the visitor is about 50% of the crowd. Unless the Nationals get very good very quickly, this is a franchise that could turn out to be a bottomless pit for money.
And the Washington Nationals are about to get a new stadium paid for by the good people of Washington DC courtesy of their City Council and their previous and current mayors. The citizenry will spend more than $600M on this project – not counting the cost of building a new Metro station near the new stadium site. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of money for a stadium for a team that just hasn’t generated all that much interest in the town.
Meanwhile, there is a team in DC that averages over 20,000 fans per game and who plays in the same fetid sewer of a stadium that the Nationals play in and who wants to build its own stadium in the city and is willing to pay the lion’s share of the construction costs. That would be DC United in MLS in case you don’t know who plays where in the DC area. And somehow those same politicians who found a way to spend $600-700M of the public’s money on a stadium for the Nats cannot find a way to dedicate the parcel of land that would accommodate this soccer-only facility for DC United.
It wasn’t all that many years ago that Jack Kent Cooke wanted to build a new football stadium in DC on his own nickel. Even in the 1980s, RFK Stadium was an armpit that needed to be vacated and then imploded. But after years of negotiating with previous mayors, Jack Kent Cooke couldn’t get the deal done for the city to get him the land he needed to build the place and so he took the stadium and the team to Prince George’s County in Maryland. Might that same scenario be playing itself out once again but this time with DC United? It could.
Some DC United fans have attributed this lack of cooperation on the part of the city government to malicious motivations and nefarious shenanigans. They may be right; but on the other hand, they may want to think about a comment that I believe was first offered by H. L. Mencken:
Never ascribe to malice that which may be equally explained by stupidity.
To put the DC United attendance in perspective, last year’s Washington Wizards made the playoffs and, for a time, had the best record in the NBA Eastern Conference. The Wizards averaged 2,100 fewer fans for their games than DC United averages.
Changing the subject, I have two suggestions for changes that the NFL ought to make. I am not implying that the NFL game is a bad entertainment product; it certainly is not. But it can be made better with these two alterations:
The rule allowing coaches to call timeouts just as the ball is being snapped on game ending field goals has to be changed – and it ought to be changed today. Normally, I do not like the idea of changing a rule in the middle of a season, but this one has gotten out of hand. If a team wants to ice a kicker, so be it. But they should have to call time out such that the play is not going to unfold as if it might actually count. A kicker trying to win or tie a game should only have to do it once and not twice.
On a statistical level, the NFL names it top receiver on the basis of passes caught. That makes about as much sense as naming the top rusher on the basis of carries. Surely, we do not need another complex formula for rating receivers akin to the QB rating which might only make sense to Stephen Hawking; but shouldn’t yards gained on receptions be more important than number of catches?
Finally, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation worked very hard to come up with the finding that alcohol use by minors is higher in those communities where it is easiest for the minors to buy alcohol. Who woulda thunk it?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…