Capitals Become One Hot Ticket

Capitals' General Manager George McPhee talks about goaltending, the playoffs and battling the flu on Washington Post Live this week. Video by Comcast SportsNet
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

As Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals close in on a second consecutive Southeast Division title, the franchise is nearing an equally impressive accomplishment off the ice.

Within days, the Capitals expect to be sold out of the nearly 12,000 tickets they've allocated for full-season plans for next season. When that happens, the sales staff will be forced to do something perhaps only majority owner Ted Leonsis envisioned when he purchased the team 10 years ago: put names on a waiting list.

"I really think we'll enter next season without a ticket to sell," Leonsis said this week at his team's practice facility in Arlington. "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."

The Capitals have already broken the franchise record for sellouts in a season with 25 and are averaging more fans per game than at any time in their history. Both records figure to be rewritten next season.

The team has sold 3,800 new full-season ticket plans since Feb. 17, and with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, there are fewer than 100 full-season seats available for next season, according to Jim Van Stone, the team's vice president of ticket sales.

Part of the surge, Van Stone acknowledged, is because the only way to guarantee tickets to playoff games this spring is by purchasing a full plan for next season. The Capitals are also one of a few teams who offer an interest-free, 12-month payment plan for season tickets, a program Van Stone said is used by 80 percent of his customers.

The team's success off the ice began with its turnaround on it. Last season's dramatic climb from the bottom of the standings to the playoffs has carried over into this season. Ovechkin and his teammates can clinch their second consecutive division title with a win tonight over the NHL-worst New York Islanders and a loss by the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow.

That upturn has allowed the Capitals to raise ticket prices by an average of 7 percent for the second straight season -- this year's average ticket price of $41.66 still ranks in the bottom third of the league -- and has paved the way for gains in other areas of the team's business despite an economy that's in the midst of a historic downturn.

As recently as two years ago, the Capitals ranked near the bottom of the NHL with a season ticket base of about 4,500. When the 2009-10 season begins in October, they expect to rank in the top third with a base of nearly 12,000 in a building that holds 18,277.

The Capitals neither control nor sell Verizon Center's club seats and suites, which are believed to total about 2,700 seats and are owned and sold by Washington Sports and Entertainment. The remaining 3,500 seats available for each game will consist of tickets that are held back for single-game sales, group sales, partial-season ticket plans and American With Disabilities Act seating.

"The focus now is about retention," said Tim McDermott, the Capitals' senior vice president. "A couple of years ago, I remember hearing Ted telling some prospective season 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."

Ticket sales, though, aren't the only indicator that's pointing up for the Capitals:

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