Why leading on the Washington Nationals can be as valuable as catching up on the Redskins

nationalsI’ve got a crazy-sounding theory, and it very well may be crazy, but I challenge you to talk me out of it.

In the long run, I think the lowly Washington Nationals will prove to be as valuable to TBD as the much-more-popular Washington Redskins. For real.

This is despite the rabid fan base for the Redskins compared to a barely-there fan base for the Nationals. This slaps the face of quite a bit of common sense.

But I have my reasons. And when it happens, it’ll be a living example of why leading is always better than playing catch-up.

My first task as a community host at TBD — a yet-to-be-launched website that’ll cover local news and sports in DC in a very new way — has been to reach out to sports bloggers in an effort to create a mutually beneficial network. I’ve slogged through blogrolls, opened hundreds of tabs, and built what I believe is the definitive list of currently active blogs that cover the Nationals and Redskins. (Capitals, Wizards, high school and college teams will follow later.)

Conventional wisdom — and possibly correct wisdom — says the Redskins are the online goldmine. The fan base is huge, the fan base is rabid, and there’s a massive hunger to grapple with the minutiae of the season.

So it seemed counterintuitive that my list of active bloggers included 18 blogs and sites exclusively covering the Redskins, and 28 exclusively covering the Nationals. Most of those Redskins blogs were established blogging powerhouses, while the Nats blogs mostly had smaller followings. Though I haven’t seen their metrics, I have little doubt the Redskins blogs attract far more traffic.

I asked Twitter why there are so many more Nats bloggers, and three Nats fans responded in lock-step.

doubleuefwhy: Would not surprise me. #Redskins never lacked 4 coverage

johnmtaylor: @bydanielvictor I think you’ll find there are fewer NFL blogs out there than MLB, NHL, NBA. Less need for them b/c of coverage saturation

doubleuefwhy: Sports talk radio has been basically Redskins all the time around here too since its inception @bydanielvictor @johnmtaylor

loudoun: @bydanielvictor Nats blogs are fewer…cuz they’re new, they lose, too many looking for answers, too many with bad ones…skins r settled in

So the blogging scene may be livelier for the Nationals because there’s less mainstream attention, which is also the reason those blogs don’t have many readers.

You can either see that as evidence that the Nationals aren’t worth the effort — or you can choose to see the Nationals as a growth area.

There isn’t as much room for growth in the Redskins tubesphere — the bloggers are well-established, and if anything their fans might say there’s an over-saturation of coverage. Getting a seat at that table requires strong elbows and a creative playbook. We plan to utilize both, but we’re long behind in that race.

Contrast that with the Nationals, whose fans want to see the team grow and could use all the help they can get. In creating a network of Nationals bloggers and providing them exposure (and revenue) they haven’t seen elsewhere, TBD can position itself at the center of the Nationals online universe.

This is almost certainly our only chance to do that.

Since the Nationals came to DC in 2005, they’ve been a lousy team with few fans. But I wouldn’t bet on it staying that way forever. I don’t think they’ll ever develop a Redskins-like fandom, but there will be a lot of website visits to be had when they finally put together a pennant run one of these years.

If we take them lightly now based on current site stats, all those future Nationals fans will instead go to whatever site took the opportunity that we slept on. Or, we can establish ourselves now before it’s needed, and enjoy our long-standing reputation when it really matters someday.

After tweeting about this crazy theory, I got these responses:

ryansholin I like it. Let’s put it this way: I recently moved to the area and know *nothing* about the Nats. Where do I start?

doubleuefwhy @bydanielvictor You could potentially be a leader if you give #Nats fans something they can’t already get and the team gets really good.

Well, we’ll work on our part.

  • Great post. Abstracting what you did here and seeing the lesson it provides for other areas of coverage can be very valuable as well.

  • Chris Courogen

    Out of curiosity, what gives you such faith in the Nats’ future success? The franchise’s struggles long pre-date its arrival in DC. It is a small market, split with the Orioles, and thus will never likely have the deep pockets it sadly seems are required to support the kind of payroll it takes to be consistently successful. They play in the same division as the Phillies, who are currently enjoying near dynasty status with a nucleus that would seem to ensure they will maintain such status for years barring significant injuries.

    And even if they do enjoy success, I wonder if your site will be able to compete with WaPo given the established beat writers with credentialed access and connections with the sources on the Nats beat.

    Not saying TBD can’t gain traction or build traffic with Nats coverage, but “center of the Nats online universe” might be tough to do going up against Boswell et al

  • @Chris Courogen

    Good questions. For one, this isn’t a statement on the Nats’ future success, just their future fandom. I have faith that the Nats can at least be competitive…a core of Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Derek Norris and Bryce Harper (I’m assuming) is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t know if they’ll ever win a World Series, but at some point I do think they’ll be playing with the rest of the NL East. A relatively small amount of success, along with a little more longevity here, will be enough to at least increase the interest in the Nats.

    As far as competing with the WaPo: First of all, we’ll have our own beat writers/columnists that readers can connect to, but I think you’re underestimating how powerful the blog network can become. Some bloggers are credentialed themselves, and some of them already have considerable followings. We can develop name brands like Boswell — and who’s to say we won’t link to Boswell himself? The key will be offering something different than Nats fans have seen before, and this blog network will be one part of that. We’ll also be an easy place to go for EVERYTHING Nats, not just that one columnist you like.

  • Dan Steinberg

    I mean, maybe. But if leading is always better than playing catch-up, couldn’t you say the same thing about dominating coverage of D.C. United? Or the D.C. Divas? Or the Washington Kastles?

    It’s about more than leading vs. following; it’s about reader interest. Our experience has shown that the interest in the Redskins is massively, overwhelmingly, obscenely, ridiculously greater than the interest in anything else, to the point where the most minute and inconsequential Redskins story will get more eyeballs than major developments concerning any other D.C. franchise.

    So sure, in theory, whatever. But in practice, I’d still hitch my saddle to the 19th best Redskins blog than the center of the Nats universe.

  • It’s not either/or, Dan (Steinberg). Dan (Victor) didn’t say that TBD won’t compete on the Redskins (we will), just that the Nats might provide the better growth opportunity.

  • @Dan Steinberg

    I’m saving my entry on our 24-hour D.C. Divas network for later. Can’t reveal all our tricks just yet.

    I don’t think we’ll abandon paying attention to reader interest to pursue some high-minded leading-versus-following concept…the point is that we can’t ignore the Nats. Incidentally, I’ve been linked to your blog many a time. It’s a damn good blog.

  • Dan Steinberg

    I agree it’s not either/or. But the headline here says leading on the Nats could be as valuable as catching up on the Skins. My gut tells me that’s the case only if the Nats are an actual World Series contender, and probably not even then. Just my guess.

    And you could make similar arguments about the Caps and Wizards, which have (I’d think) pretty similar existing coverage as the Nats. Actually, there’s probably less Wizards coverage out there than there is for the Nats, who have four legit beat writers (Zuckerman, Goessling, Kilgore, McNally). And this is a basketball town much more than a baseball town historically, right?

  • Chris Courogen

    Dan S. — Don’t confuse the NBA with basketball.

  • webberdc

    The reason why there are more Nats bloggers is that there is more to discuss for those without inside access in baseball than football. There are 10x more games to digest — 162 to 16 — without any need for interviewing the participants.

    I met Wilbon a few times and I once discussed with him which sport drives more readers to dead tree papers sports pages and he agreed baseball. 6 months of regular season versus 4, and, like the dead tree and internet, the games are “published” daily. These 162 unique events — and the accompanying features, columns, and news items that accompany those events — just provide more fodder.

    Skins will remain #1 for fans and traffic, but the Nats will eventually be #2 and it won’t be close. It makes all the sense in the world to lead blogging sports coverage with the Nats, but I’ve been telling Agent Steiz this for years (intermittently).

  • Dave Bagley

    @Chris Courogen
    Bringing up the Nats struggles before they moved to DC makes no sense at all, different ownership, different market, and DC is not a small market, it’s a top ten tv market nationwide and per capita only one or two greater metropolitan area can compete with the affluency of the Greater DC area.
    The Nats market (and the owners sweetheart deal with the city) will allow them to support a team payroll that will eventually slot-in between 7th and 10th highest in the league. The Phillies will not be able to maintain the payroll they have now and will need in the near future to keep all the key players they will need to maintain the dynasty status they currently enjoy. It’s why Nats fans are already thinking that Jayson Werth would be a nice fit in RF for the Nats next year.
    Three years ago no one would have called DC a great hockey town, but I heard non-local hockey commentators refer to DC as such within the last month. With the lineup the Nats will be able to start the season with next year, there’s no reason the same thing can’t begin to happen for the Nats, and on a larger scale.

  • John Fry

    Agree absolutely w/Dave Bagley. And to further his points….MOST Redskin football fans simply aren’t baseball fans. Lets be honest….modern day football is akin to ancient Roman gladiator days…violence and mayhem is the entertaining factor. And I’m fine w/that…it’s not a prob….but let there be not mistake….the fan base of baseball and football games are simply not the same….the pace, the atmosphere, the stadium size, the amount of time commitment, the number of home games…etc. I just don’t see how or why the 2 teams/games need to be compared as aggressively as posts suggests.

    Perhaps a Yankee or RedSox fan would disagree…but at this point in time it’s great to go a Nats game on a nice day when they field a team that simply has a decent chance to win….for my money it takes the edge off of living in a city that takes itself way too seriously.