It took Washington D.C. way too long to get a Major League Baseball franchise due to the twin travesties of Peter Angelos and the general presumption that baseball couldn’t succeed in D.C.
In retrospect, looking at the numbers, it was completely asinine for anyone to think baseball could not succeed here. According to the 2010 Census, the Washington D.C. metropolitan area had 5,636,232 people, the 7th largest market in the country. Since New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles each have two teams, Washington D.C. is the 4th largest market with a single team. The current largest market without a baseball team is Portland, which had 3,410,223 fewer people than Washington D.C. in the 2010 census. Put another way, the difference between Washington D.C. and Portland would be the 16th largest market in the U.S. by itself, bigger than Minneapolis, San Diego, St. Louis, and 8 other cities with an active MLB team.
Most importantly, Washington D.C. continues to grow, at estimates between 5 and 6 percent since the last census 4 years ago. The Washington area’s growth far outpaces most Northeast and Rust Belt cities including division rival Philadelphia. D.C.’s estimated population growth is 5 times the growth of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, meaning Washington will soon pass the Philly area in population, if it hasn’t already, since the D.C. area had only 330,000 fewer people in 2010. Even more importantly than that, Washington D.C. has unmatched wealth within its market. 11 of the top 21 wealthiest counties in the United States surround Washington D.C., including five of the top six and three largest.
Despite these advantages, when baseball arrived here in 2005, there were numerous factors conspiring against its success. The franchise had been stripped of most of its on-field assets, as best demonstrated by the infamous 2004 Bartolo Colon trade. Moreover, the team’s owners–the 29 teams in baseball–did not invest in the team’s roster. Bud Selig’s refusal to sell the team until 2006 meant the team’s rebuilding would have to wait until the other 29 owners were absolutely sure they could suck every possible dollar out of the Nationals’ new owner through an inflated purchase price. Finally, Bud Selig, Peter Angelos, and MLB made sure the new owner would be saddled with an unfavorable TV contract he had no say in negotiating. These forces eventually colluded to make the Nationals baseball’s worst team in 2008 and 2009.
Time and smart management have slowly alleviated the competitive disadvantages inherited from Bud Selig’s ownership of the Nationals. The eternally bumbling Jim Bowden was finally kicked out the door, and Mike Rizzo slowly rebuilt the roster through smart trades, wise investments in the draft, and a little bit of luck. The Nationals are now one of baseball’s most talented teams.
But one inherited disadvantage has not gone away: MASN. Ted Lerner and the Nationals are still saddled with the same unfavorable TV contract written when Bud Selig was running the Nationals/Expos franchise into the ground.
The population and demographic numbers suggest the Nationals should stay on top of Major League Baseball for years to come. There’s only one thing standing in the way.
More on that later.