Winning Caps Find They're A Hot Ticket

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nearly four months after the Washington Capitals rallied to capture the Southeast Division championship, the team continues to cash in on the excitement its improbable run generated.

The Capitals had one of the NHL's smallest season ticket bases at the start of last season, believed to be about 5,000, but that figure could double and move the team closer to the league's midpoint by opening night.

Jim Van Stone, the Capitals' vice president of ticket sales, said yesterday that 3,800 new full season ticket plans have been sold since late February thanks to a renewed interest in the team and more aggressive sales and marketing strategies. He also said sales of partial plans are similarly brisk, while the renewal rate for existing season ticket holders is about 93 percent, the highest since Ted Leonsis purchased the team in 1999.

"I'd love to say we expected this, or planned this," Van Stone said. "We're amazed by the support."

The average price of season tickets also went up, some as much as 10 percent. One of the biggest increases was for "Center Preferred" seats, which are in the lower bowl between the goal lines. They went from $95 to $105.

The price hike, team officials said, was necessary to offset escalating player costs. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Chris Clark are among a number of players due hefty raises. The team's payroll, in fact, is expected to be at or near the salary cap ceiling of $56.7 million next season, just one year after having one of the league's lowest payrolls.

On Wednesday, the Capitals hosted their third "Select-a-Seat" open house at Verizon Center, where prospective season ticket holders were able to view their seats before purchasing them. Van Stone said they sold $50,000 in new season ticket plans during the two-hour event, and have earned a total of $260,000 in new business on the three nights combined.

In addition to the open-house events, the Capitals added 14 new ticket sales associates, who each make between 80 and 100 calls per day.

Last season, the Capitals ranked at or near the bottom of the league in announced attendance in October and November. The crowds grew steadily after Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon as coach on Nov. 22; attendance peaked in March and April as the team completed its playoff run.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

© 2008 The Washington Post Company