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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: September 23, 12:09 PM ET
No. 49: Washington Nationals

By Doug Mittler
ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 34
Title track: 56
Ownership: 40
Coaching: 22
Players: 20
Fan relations: 44
Affordability: 62
Stadium experience: 44
Bang for the buck: 82

Both sides of the aisle in DC would like to have the support exhibited this season by Washington Nationals fans. The defending NL East champs were averaging 33,630 fans per game as of early August -- a 10 percent rise over last season -- even though they had fallen 15.5 games behind the first-place Braves at the time. While their overall ranking dipped 15 spots from last season, the Nats enjoyed a 26-point improvement in the stadium experience category to 44th. "We look at how we can generate value for our fans even when we're not necessarily having our best year on the field," Nats COO Andy Feffer says.

The club actively courts the young professional crowd with happy hour specials before evening games and has a wide variety of concession choices (how about that chocolate bacon or the Chesapeake crab roll?). This season the Nats became the first pro sports team in the U.S. to replace paper tickets for season-ticket holders with encrypted cards using RFID technology. The cards allow for quicker entry into the park, paperless concession purchases and easier transfer of tickets.

The overall cost of seeing the Nats for the season did go up 18.7 percent, the second-highest leap in MLB, and the fans did take notice with a 22-point drop in the affordability ranking. Feffer counters that fans who purchased full or partial ticket plans did not see an increase if they committed prior to the season. Approximately 400 grandstand tickets for non-premium games also can be had for $5 on game day. While the division race may be all but lost, there is always the Presidents Race, which this year added William Howard Taft to the mix with George, Thomas, Abe and Teddy. Poor Teddy -- Taft is surprisingly agile for his size, and it'll probably be another seven seasons until the Rough Rider wins again.