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Baseball Returns to Washington

By Yong-yi Zhu


Congratulations Washington, baseball is yours again. After 33 years of migrations to Baltimore, the city will have a Major League Baseball team all to itself once again.

There were many other locations that wanted the MLB team currently known as the Montreal Expos, including Northern Virginia, Las Vegas Norfolk and Monterrey, but our nation’s capitol won the bid. The city is at or above the average in most of the market statistics compared with the other baseball teams. The area’s population is 13th and the median income is 8th amongst all the 27 current baseball markets.

The move did not come easy; it wasn’t as though Peter Angelos, the Baltimore Orioles owner, simply caved in. In fact, there were suggestions for the Orioles to move to the National League because of the supposed “better rivals” in the national league. It would allow the Orioles to play more big market teams with a better chance of making the postseason. Eventually, though, the league decided the move wasn’t worth it.

Therefore, Major League Baseball found another way to compensate Angelos. If the Orioles do not make a set minimal revenue, the MLB will pay Angelos out of its own pocket. In addition, if Angelos wanted to sell the team and nobody bid a certain minimal value, MLB would once again pay for difference between that minimal value and what the highest bidder is willing to pay. They are currently hashing out how much that minimal value is and how long this plan will go in effect for.

Soon, we will see if bringing more baseball to an area which already has one team will hurt attendance of both. Angelos has voiced this opinion throughout Washington’s bid for the team. True, Baltimore is not doing too badly in terms of ticket sales, but they are not among the top ten leaders in terms of attendance. In addition, having a team just an hour’s drive away will hurt their market tremendously.

The Orioles are currently 12th in average game attendance, right behind the Red Sox, but the Orioles only fill up 70 percent of their stadium. With a clear division between the Orioles and the DC team, that 70 percent could drop even lower and the average attendance might become one of the lowest in the league.

The other problem is that the Senators will also need to draw a large crowd, ideally from a new market. We know that the DC team will definitely draw a larger crowd than the current Expos. Montreal home games on average drew 9,077 this season, which is dead last in major league baseball attendance. In fact, they have been dead last in that category for quite a while: in 2003 they averaged 12,662, in 2002 they averaged 10,025 and in 2001 the average was a pitiful 7,935 attendants per game.

With the games being played in RFK Stadium for the next three years and the new stadium being built just 12 blocks south of the Capitol, D.C. baseball will be easily accessible via public transportation, something that the Orioles clearly did not provide for D.C. and metro area.

The question is: will the transition from Montreal to D.C. bring more people to the new team than it will take from the Orioles fans?

Baseball in D.C. will be profitable to baseball in more than just the monetary sense. It will bring legitimacy back to one of their teams, which the Expos severely lack. With the revenue that can be generated from the nation’s capitol, the team can be an actual contender for the NL East, not just a spectator. Besides, it would be cool to have a stadium right next to the Anacostia River. It could be like the McCovey’s Cove of the East.

If this move works, at least Bud Selig will have made one good decision in his time as commissioner.