Back in Red, White and Blue, Caps Make a Colorful Statement

Washington Capitals jersey
The new uniforms, which include a red home jersey, will be officially unveiled Friday night during the NHL entry draft. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Capitals)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007

Twelve years to the day they jettisoned the logo and color scheme that defined their first two decades, the Washington Capitals are returning to their roots. Red, white and blue jerseys are back, with the familiar stars on the chest and the "t" in "Capitals" shaped like a hockey stick across the front.

The long-anticipated switch will take place tonight during the NHL entry draft in Columbus, Ohio, when General Manager George McPhee is scheduled to hand the team's first-round pick -- assuming the No. 5 selection isn't traded -- the redesigned white jersey.

"We're really happy with it," McPhee said of the design, which was supposed to be a surprise but was leaked on the Internet earlier this week. "We feel we've captured what our fans wanted and something the players will be proud to wear."

The Capitals' new look, which has been under development in conjunction with athletic apparel company Reebok for nearly three years, puts a modern touch on the star-laden, red, white and blue uniform the team wore from 1974 until 1995.

"Going back to red, white and blue is about returning to tradition," said majority owner Ted Leonsis, who assumed control of the team in 1999. "I grew up a Caps fan. So red, white and blue is what I've always associated with the Caps. We've come up a design that is obvious and natural."

"Capitals" is emblazoned in dark blue lettering on the chest of the jerseys, with the letter "t" extending down and forming a hockey stick alongside a stylized puck. "Washington" is written in capital letters over the club's name, and three stars -- representing Maryland, the District and Virginia -- sit above the city's name. The numbers and lettering on the back of the red home jersey are white with a blue outline. The font figures to be easy to read from the seats.

A shoulder patch features a bald eagle, a 'W' intertwined in its spread wings, perched above a silhouette of the Capitol building.

The white road jersey features the same logo on the front but the numbers and lettering on the back are red with a blue outline.

The players' shorts are blue, as are the socks, which feature red and white striping.

Tim McDermott, the team's chief marketing officer, calls it an "identity change" and a "brand awakening," which he hopes will strengthen the organization's bond with current fans while helping attract new ones. That's been a challenge in recent seasons for the Capitals, who have finished in last place in the Southeast Division three consecutive years and ranked 27th in the NHL in attendance last season.

"It's a recognition that a logo or a color scheme is an important element in selling a product to consumers," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "It sets the tone for what I'm sure the franchise hopes will be a new era of success. It remains to be seen whether than happens or not, but it at least changes the way they are perceived by their consumer base."

Team officials also hope the return to red, white and blue will help them sell more merchandise.

"It's important to have equity in a color scheme," McDermott said. "Look at the Green Bay Packers -- they own green and yellow. We want fans walking around wearing our stuff. It raises our brand awareness and that helps us create more fans."

The switch also means the organization must change dozens of other items, from player underwear to locker name plates to travel bags to all 1,500 hours of video played on the monitors during home games at Verizon Center.

Six other teams -- Boston, Columbus, Ottawa, San Jose, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver -- also will make changes to their uniforms as the NHL switches to a new form-fitting uniform designed by Reebok. The Capitals' overhaul is among the most extensive because both the logo and colors are completely different.

The team is hosting a draft day party tonight at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where 2,000 fans, six current players and Leonsis will celebrate the uniform's unveiling and watch the first round of the draft live from Columbus. (Rounds 2-7 will be tomorrow.)

Team captain Chris Clark and teammates Ben Clymer, Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, Boyd Gordon and Brent Johnson will model the new uniforms during the party. Hall of Fame players Mike Gartner and Rod Langway also will be in attendance.

"We're representing the nation's capital," said veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig, who saw the uniforms before heading to his offseason home in Kennewick, Wash. "The colors that come to mind are red, white and blue. That's what it should have been the whole time."

The Capitals' first significant uniform change occurred in 1995, when the franchise adopted a bald eagle for its primary logo and blue, black and bronze for its colors. In 2001, the alternate all-black, dome logo jersey became the home uniform.

This latest change was first discussed six years ago when team officials contacted designer Tommy Hilfiger. A few prototype logos were developed, but the plans were abandoned shortly after one of the designs leaked.

The effort was revived in November 2004 when the NHL and Reebok were in the initial phases of developing a high-tech, streamlined uniform, consisting of moisture-wicking, form-fitting jerseys and sleeker shorts and socks.

"They were very clear from the beginning about what they wanted: it was going to be red, white and blue," said Keith Leach of Reebok, who coordinated the redesign with McPhee. "The logo was the most intricate process. They were open to looking at any and everything, from the eagle to the Capitol to the original logo with the 't' as a hockey stick."

The majority of the work on the new look was completed between fall 2005 and April 2006, when the Capitals put some of the prototypes in front of a focus group of 30 people who signed confidentiality agreements.

One day following that focus group, the prototype was tested for how it would look on television. Two team employees suited up and skated on the rink at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., while being videotaped by Comcast SportsNet's cameras. It didn't go well, according to those who were there. The logo, which at the time had elements of the Capitol atop the team's name on the front, was hard to recognize and some of the colors did not contrast well.

The next prototypes were tested for the cameras in July. This time, Capitals prospects Stephen Werner and Sasha Pokulok wore them.

McPhee took a few versions of the prototypes that emerged and showed them to Kolzig and Brian Sutherby during training camp. The players gave their impressions and made suggestions.

Over the next six months, the new uniforms began to come into the focus. Reebok continued to make small changes and the Capitals continued to make suggestions, until two versions emerged in mid-February. The one that wasn't chosen likely will become an alternate jersey in the future.

"There was almost like a natural consensus," Leonsis said. "This one just felt so right."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company