Capitals' Fans Catching The Fever For Season Tickets

Jennifer JohnsonAnalyst IApril 1, 2009

WASHINGTON - MARCH 27:  Brian Pothier #2 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 27, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If you live in the D.C. metropolitan area and haven’t been to a Capitals’ game, then man, you are missing out!

The Capitals are enjoying their second consecutive winning season under long-time AHL coach Bruce Boudreau.

The good-guys-in-red edged out the Carolina Hurricanes for the NHL's Southeastern Division title on the last game of the 2007-08 regular season by defeating the Florida Panthers 3-1.

Despite a sub par March this season, the Capitals (46-23-7) sit atop the Southeastern Division standings with 99 points through 76 games played. 

Along with the surging New Jersey Devils (47-25-4, 98 points), the Caps have been chasing Eastern Conference-leading Boston (49-17-10, 108 points) for a solid two months.

Tonight the Caps go head-to-head with the New York Islanders at Verizon Center with just six games left to prove they deserve the second seed in the 2009 NHL playoffs…and the greatest accomplishment that is lost on the national media is how the team’s talented squad has increased the ticket sales by 40 percent.

For a "non-hockey" town, the eager fans sure have been buying tickets at an exciting rate to see their men lace them up.

Owner Ted Leonsis is anticipating selling out the 12,000 allotted tickets for season tickets for next season.

When this happens, the sales staff will be forced to put additional ticket buyers on a waiting list. “I really think we’ll enter next season without a ticket to sell,” Leonsis said. “I always thought it was up to us.  I never once said this is a bad market.  I always believed that if we put out a good product, and the team played well, it was possible.”

So far this season, the Capitals have sold out 25 home games.

This is a franchise record and their average attendance will dwarf the numbers set the year they went to the Stanley Cup Finals (1997).

The team has sold 3,800 new full-season tickets since Feb. 17, and with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season there are fewer than 100 full-season tickets available for next season. 

Jan Van Stone, Vice President of Ticket Sales, attributes the high demand for Capitals tickets on the team’s drafting of Alexander Ovechkin and the family friendly packages that include souvenir Caps gear, food and beverages, and a chance to meet a Capital at a future game. 

No social, economic, or racial bias applies to the Capitals’ marketing approach when it involves keeping the fans entertained. “We offer fans an interest-free, 12-month payment plan for season tickets, a program used by 80 percent of our customers,” Van Stone said.

The increased fan support has allowed management to raise ticket prices an average of seven percent during these winning seasons. However, the average ticket price of $41.66 still ranks the team in the bottom third of the league.

In a building that holds 18,277, the 12,000 regular season tickets sold would rank the Capitals in the top third of the league by next season.

“The focus now is about retention,” Tim McDermott, the Capitals’ senior vice president said. “A couple of years ago, I remember hearing Ted telling some prospective ticket holders, ‘Get in now. It’s like buying Google stock at 36 cents.’  Ted was right on. Our meteoric rise has been very Google-like.”

More bodies planted in the movie-theater style lower level seats means an increase in television exposure as well.

Comcast SportsNet broadcasters, Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin, make hockey an interactive experience.

During intermission sessions, a trivia question is given to both men, and sometimes their good-natured cajoling is better than the actual on-ice affair.  

I love it when Joe uses hockey jargon like “corralling the bouncing biscuit” or “Ovechkin just whizzed a howitzer past the outstretched goalie’s glove that sailed wide by inches folks.” Together, they have the knowledge and engaging personalities needed to keep viewers involved in the action.

Merchandise sales have also risen 30 percent from a year ago. Ovechkin’s No. 8 sweater is the most popular jersey followed by defenseman Mike Green (No. 52). 

This is a brand new experience for the entire Capitals organization.

Being a hot commodity has its benefits and Leonsis is well aware that in order to keep the fans around for many years to come, he has to make it worth their hard-earned money.

“There are higher expectations and people who are unhappy because they can’t come in,” Leonsis quipped. “It’s a whole new experience for us, a whole new stage in our development. I told everyone it could all go away in a heartbeat. So, we have to stay humble and over-service people.”

Notes: Defenseman Donald Brashear remains out of the lineup with a sore knee, but is expected to play this weekend.

Jose Theodore gets the nod in net tonight for the home team.