Capitals to raise ticket prices for third straight year

Alex Ovechkin, left, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis have provided fans with one of the best products the NHL has to offer this season.
Alex Ovechkin, left, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis have provided fans with one of the best products the NHL has to offer this season. (Nick Wass/associated Press)
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By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

In the midst of one of the largest surges of fan interest in franchise history, the Washington Capitals notified season ticket holders this week that prices would go up for a third straight year.

For season ticket holders who renew by March 12, prices will increase anywhere from 13 percent in the lower bowl to 33 percent for certain upper-level seats. Prices for new season ticket buyers will be from 16 to 50 percent higher than they were a year ago. Gate prices for next season haven't been announced, but they are also expected to increase, although walk-up sales have essentially vanished since season tickets became such a prized commodity.

The Capitals actually lowered prices after the NHL lockout in 2004, and prices for many seats this season were comparable to pre-lockout levels, according to a team spokesman. An upper-level, center-section season ticket that sold for $33 a game this season, for example, cost $32 a game in 2003-04. That seat will cost $40 a game next season for existing season ticket holders, and $43 a game for a new buyer.

"It's important for people not to react to a one- or two-year increase, but to look at trends over a longer period and the context at which they've arrived at the 2010 prices," said Jeffrey Citron, a Toronto-based corporate finance and sports lawyer. "Because when you look at that context, they've managed ticket prices in a very responsible way. When the team wasn't performing well, fans were actually getting a break on ticket prices. I think the fans in Washington don't have anything to complain about and actually should be happy. They didn't pay for the team's performance when it wasn't good, and now they're being asked to pay a bit more for excellence."

The Capitals are enjoying perhaps the best run in their 36 years as Washington's other pro franchises have largely foundered. Entering the Olympic break, the Capitals have the most points in the NHL, the latest juncture in the season they've held that position. Their local broadcast partner, Comcast SportsNet, has set repeated ratings records, with the five most-watched regular season games in the network's history all coming within the past month. Every home game thus far has sold out, and a few years after wallowing near the bottom in NHL attendance, the Capitals now rank 11th.

The Capitals' average ticket cost of $44.75 ranked 21st in the NHL this season, according to Team Marketing Report, which does not include premium seating in its calculations. A team spokesman said according to internal data, the franchise's season ticket prices ranked 27th in the NHL, and are expected to remain in the bottom third of the league even after the most recent price increases.

"For a team that spends to the [salary] cap and produces a Stanley Cup contender on the ice, I think that actually offers a lot of value," spokesman Nate Ewell said.

The per-game costs for season ticket holders will increase an average of $7.43, with better seats generally going up by bigger values. But the upper-level seats will go up by a higher percentage, with the cheapest season ticket now costing $24 a game for existing ticket holders and $27 a game for new ticket holders.

The cheapest season ticket this season cost just $12. That group of about 350 upper-level seats, known as the Goal Zone, has been folded into the rest of its section and priced accordingly, making for a 142 percent bump in prices.

The average Nationals ticket cost $30.63 in 2009 (seventh in MLB), the average Redskins ticket cost $79.13 in 2009 (10th in the NFL) and the average Wizards ticket cost $27.21 this season (28th in the NBA), according to Team Marketing Report.

As a tenant at Verizon Center, and lacking a lucrative television deal like those enjoyed by other sports leagues, the Capitals rely on ticket sales for much of their revenue. The franchise lost $4.9 million last season, according to Forbes, and its $83 million of revenue was in the bottom half of the NHL.

The franchise set up a tiered system for regular season games this season, with some ticket prices to the most desirable games up as much as 160 percent over last year's prices. Season ticket prices this year increased between 5 and 20 percent, and the franchise sold out its entire allotment.

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