Ted Leonsis: The Capitals, Owning a Pro Sports Team and Building a Fan Base
Wednesday, June 3, 2009; 12:00 PM
Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis was online to take all your questions on owning an NHL team, building a rabid following in football-mad Washington and the team's plans for the future on Wednesday, June 3.
A transcript follows.
Leonsis has owned the Capitals for 10 years, helping turn the team from a perennial afterthought to back-to-back Southeast Division champions. Leonsis also serves as AOL's vice chairman emeritus and has founded -- and serves as chairman of -- internet start-up companies SnagFilms, Clearspring Technologies and Revolution Money.
Alexandria, Va.: Ted,
How do you think the upcoming salary cap reduction will affect the plans for the team next year?
Ted Leonsis: Hi Everyone -- let us get to work and thanks for coming.Yes - the salary cap today and tommorrow and in out years figures centrally in all of our discussions; the cap is a mostly hard cap and it means we have to plan very carefully, as we have many young players who will be coming into their prime and will need to be re-signed. Based on that, do not expect us to sign any big name free agents to long term deals. We need flexibility to move quickly if the cap goes down -- which I believe it will in the out years
Pasadena, Md.: Ted,
Outside of the on-ice product, anything fun/new planned for the upcoming season (i.e. Caps RedLine Monday)??
Ted Leonsis: We are trying to do more and more features on players -- more new media work; more work with Hershey and South Carolina --and we are in midst of all of our planning for next year. We will do more -- NOT less because we love our fans and we get lots of input on how to improve.
Herndon, Va.: Mr. Leonsis,
As you may be aware, Sports Illustrated recently published a feature on the five best and worst owners in professional sports by league.
Not to sound like a homer, but not including you as one of the five best owners in the NHL is like not voting Alex Ovechkin into the All Star game -- dumb.
My question is, whether discussing left wingers or best owners, why are the Capitals not given their due?
washingtonpost.com: SI's Best and Worst Owners: NHL
Ted Leonsis: Thanks -- I only care about our team winning and selling out the Verizon Center for games. Our fans matter most to me and your appreciation is more important than some writer at a petroleum based print property :-)
Section 406, Vienna, Va.: Ted, permit me a non-Caps related question? You're a list-maker ... do you make lists for the small things (get hair cut, mow lawn, pay bills) or just big-picture stuff?
Ted Leonsis: No, I'm not that organized. I make lists to achieve big things-- make playoffs, check; win division, check; most points for a Caps team in history, check; win a playoff series, check; sell out all games, check; win a Stanley Cup ... to come.
Fairfax, Va.: Dear Ted:
Thanks for being what must be the most approachable owner in sports. Any fan who sends you hate e-mail is an idiot. No one is perfect.
Are there any things can we expect to see during the summer to keep the team in the spotlight, other than development camp? I can't bear reading about the Redskins ad infinitum all summer.
Ted Leonsis: There is lots going on -- draft, trades, free agency, awards in Las Vegas, development camp, and unfortunately an accusation from Florida. We will be in the paper alot, so you should get your fill of all Caps news.
Bethesda, Md.: How much control or influence do you have on hiring, both in the front office and for the team on the ice?
Ted Leonsis: I set strategy, budget and a very few rules. George and Dick and Bruce execute tactics. If George wanted to trade Alex Ovechkin, he would come talk to me; but who he trades for, drafts, who plays, that is up to the professionals; I manage to outcomes, not to process; I have no delusions that I know more about hockey than our staff. I am being exposed to alot, and I think I have learned more and more, but at end of the day if I make decisions on players or systems then I can't hold any one responsible; so I think it is working out pretty good right now.
In the Waiting Line, Alexandria, Va.: Please please please please please release more season tickets. I'm on the waiting list and can't stand it any longer!
I want to give you several thousand dollars, please don't make it so difficult to do that. :)
Ted Leonsis: Wow -- that is so nice of you -- we are doing our best to get more tickets to sell; can you believe we have reached that point? Amazing!
Washington, D.C.: In the long run a sports franchise, like any business, must be profitable, right? Are the Caps on track to profitability?
Ted Leonsis: Nope, we have a long way to go. Last season, as an example, we inceased player payroll more than we increased revenues, hence, we actually lost more money last year than the year before. But we can't spend any more on players as we are at cap max, so our losses should go down over the coming years
Kensington, Md.: Please, please, please tell us the report of steroid use by the Caps is just baloney.
washingtonpost.com: Capitals, Nats Are Named in Drug Bust (Washington Post, May 28)
Ted Leonsis: As I noted, I trust but we must verify. The accusations must be taken seriously. My goal is complete cooperation and then exoneration, but we are taking it very seriously as is the league. And when it is all over, it will be a case study on media and bloggers and how people react to an accustaion. My goal is to deal with it the right way and hope to get a definitive answer. I do not believe any of our players are involved but we have to do the work ... and we are.
Section 420, Fairfax Va.: Hi Ted,
Permit me a non-Caps, but hockey related question, as I know you are a fan of the sport. What is your take on the officiating of the Finals? There are rumblings it has not been up to par. And, what do you prefer ... a tightly called game, or ones where the refs let them play?
Ted Leonsis: I think the Pens wore cloaks of invisibility last night :-). I wish the same crew worked our Tampa playoff series OT loss with a man in the box for too many men onside. Other than that, no comment :-).
Germantown, Md.: Hi Ted,
There was talk last year of bringing the Bears down for a weekend game maybe sometime when the Caps are on the road ... any possibility of this occurring?
Ted Leonsis: I dont know yet. George and the scouts are hard at work; they take the draft very seriously. We have two high picks in Alzner and Gustafsson that still need to play. We have lots of prospects in Hershey. Maybe we use the pick, maybe George trades it. It is up to him!
Fairfax, Va.: Any chance we get a third jersey in the near future?
Ted Leonsis: Not in the near future, no. Just rock the red and enjoy
Gaithersburg, Md.: Ted, about a year ago you did an interview for SI.com and you mentioned that you weren't sure the attendance would ever show up in DC regardless of how they played. Now things have changed. What did you underestimate?
Ted Leonsis: I always thought the rebuild would work. Took the risk, and now am enjoying the rewards. Were you one of the folks who agreed or disagreed with the rebuild? Just curious?
Charlottesville, Va.: Ted,
What are you doing to remedy the poor ice situation in the Verizon Center? And are the problems related to the arena being kept at balmy temperatures?
Ted Leonsis: I think we have addressed this issue many times. It is too general of a comment. Sometimes the ice is great, sometimes good, sometimes bad. I thought the ice was very good during the playoffs. I can tell you that we in ownership probably monitor the ice more than any other ownership group. We dont have the best ice, we dont have worst ice, but our collective goal is grade A professional conditions for our players. We have a skilled team and we want them to remain healthy too. We care -- trust me
Rockville, Md.: Any chance that you can pull some strings and the Bears can be on television during the rest of the Calder Cup finals? I know I got to watch the Bears win a few years ago. Thanks!
Ted Leonsis: I watch all Bears game online -- works great -- or listen on web for free! Go Bears ... tough loss last night.
Santa Monica, Calif.: Have you heard anything re: the Winter Classic? I wouldn't mind seeing the team in the old school red, white and blues ...
Ted Leonsis: Would like to play in it -- but NOT my call ...
Silver Spring via Sec 420: The game experience at the Verizon Center is the best in town. With most of all of the tickets sold for next year,how do you improve on that? Besides landing a hard nose defenseman to clear out the crease and help out Varly by clearing rebounds?
Ted Leonsis: I think this need is a bit of a cliche and group think. I think our biggest need is bigger and more mobile centers; and as a team, we need to stay out of the penalty box
Washington, D.C.: Ted:
I have to tell you that the way Detroit is manhandling Pittsburgh so far (even with Datsyuk out) depresses me. Not because I like Pittsburgh, far from it. But because I realize that the Caps are much much farther away from being in Detroit's class than I had thought. I think there is still a long way to go. Comments?
Ted Leonsis: Sorry we aren't best team in NHL yet. That is our goal though ... and we will keep working it, all to meet your specifications as a fan.
Washington, D.C.: Ted,
The Game 7 loss was very disheartening. Where does this rank in terms of your disappointments since you first became associated with the Caps?
washingtonpost.com: Penguins Rock the Red Light (Washington Post, May 14)
Ted Leonsis: In hindsite, it wasnt as big a disappointment to me. We met many of our goals. Disappointing is finishing with with 59 points in 2003/4. I mourned for a few days, then we all got back to work. We have to lean in to solutions and find ways to improve. We are a very good team with a great young core, and a great fan base and committed owners. So I believe the future is bright I am an optimist by nature anyway; I dont get down for very long!
Fairfax, Va.: Ted - To what do you attribute the resurgence and popularity of the Caps?
- Ovechkin? Boudreau? Red jerseys? Winning?
Ted Leonsis: All of the above. But mostly that the fans grew to know our great young players, feel conneted to them, and we are exciting and we win a lot. And Ovechkin is historic, Mike Green is too by the way :-). And we are connected as owners to the fans and it shows. So we get paid back with love, time and investment.
Washington, D.C.: Everyone in DC seems to agree that you are the best owner in Washington, I think this is in part thanks to your accessibility and the fact that you have a winning team.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to all the other owners to improve their relationship with the fans.
Also if you could be the owner of a team in any other sport what would it be?
Ted Leonsis: Be close to the fan base. Most are really smart and caring. And listen to professionals.
Section 430: Ted, who do you see making "The Leap" next year?
Ted Leonsis: This is very exciting. We have lots of young players-- Carlson, Bourque, Alzner, Osala, Nuevirth, Valamov, Gustafsson -- to name just a few that we are all excited about. We are loaded with prospects.
Washington, D.C.: Had Lebron been a Cap and refused to shake hands after the final game, how would you have reacted as an owner? As a fan?
Ted Leonsis: The NHL has different cultures and mores and unspoken rules. We want all of our players to respect all players in league. It wouldnt happen in the NHL, that is for sure.
National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.: Where do you get your Greek food? I am sure you have pro cooks at home, but whats your favorite Greek joint around here?
Ted Leonsis: Greek Taverna in McLean,Va :-)
Clifton, Va.: Ted- what plans does the team have next season to celebrate the Capitals 35th anniversary season?
Ted Leonsis: None really. Just want to win the Cup. That is all we are now focused on as a franchise. Singular focus and determination. We have removed all other obstacles and can now have a singular focus on our present and future. I like paying homage to our past, but we have never won a Cup. That is what we are missing.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Ted,
I wanted to start out by saying thanks for putting together such a great team and organization (Kettler is great!). Now, I know you've been pretty successful through your life & career. When I think success I tend to think of mentors, did/do you have one? Also would you be willing to be one to another local sports franchise owner (... Rhymes with Can Myder)?
Thanks, Go Caps!
Ted Leonsis: I had a great mentor in college -- at Georgetown -- Father Joseph Durkin. He just died at 101 years old. I mentor a young man via Hoop Dreams, and one via Best Buddies. Mentoring is a higher calling. I encourage you all to do it
Tickets: Hi Ted,
I have a number of friends in Pittsburgh who were very frustrated by the ticket-buying process for the playoff games this year. Their zip code and area code prevented them from getting deep into the ticket buying, and they were very angry that such a measure had been taken by the Capitals.
Please, let me say to you sir, well done!
Ted Leonsis: Who cares? :-). I dont care, just want to be good and right by our fans. I thought people made a mountain out of a molehill; Thanks for agreeing with our policy -- the only people that complained were not our fans :-).
Spring Hill, Fla.: With Neuvy playing so well down in Hershey, do you think that he might have a chance being the number one goalie next year for the Caps? Or are you going to keep him in Hershey for another year or at least the beginning of next year just to see how the goalie situation pans out?
Ted Leonsis: I think Coach makes all playing decisions. He wants a competitive camp -- anything can happen. Everyone must work hard for their job. Isnt that great? No more tenured professors on campus here :-)
College Park, Md.: I just wondered if you knew how your sales staff strong-armed season ticket holders into renewing this spring. Without warning, we were given two days to commit to a full plan or lose our specific seats for the playoffs and next year. Couple behind us were on vacation, missed the deadline and got moved. I'm still angry over the way my friends and I were treated. I've been a plan holder for a decade, and if this happens again, I won't be back.
Ted Leonsis: Ok. E-mail me and let us discuss. BUT-- I am pretty sure we over-communicated to everyone. We sent e-mails, phone calls, lots of follow up. Sometimes people didn't think we were serious, sad to say. We have more demand than supply, and I want to reward loyalty, so let me learn more about this situation.
Cabin John, Md.: Are the Caps doing anything to further youth and adult rec hockey leagues in the area? There's no better way to get people hooked on hockey than to get on the ice! On that note, my team needs a checking line forward, you wanna play? We'll supply the beverages ...
Ted Leonsis: We do alot and we can do more. Youth hcokey is booming here and we have been a part of that growth. You shoudl attend one of our hockey school visits or rink visits etc etc to see how hard we work this issue.
Washington, D.C.: Do you yell Unleash the Fury with everyone else?
Ted Leonsis: My wife does to me !!!!!!!!!!!
20004, Washington, D.C.: Hiya Ted
Just quick kudos for you and your organization hiring athletes of character. Toward the end of the regular season, there were a lot of personal appearances where Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Victor Kozlov, and others gave up a bunch of their time to skate around with mites teams in the area. The players were very generous with their time and seemed to enjoy the activities. You made a lot a lifelong Caps fans those days. Thanks a lot!
Ted Leonsis: We are blessed. We have wonderful humans as players, great people, very classy and caring; we are lucky indeed -- and you dont see what I see when they do charitable work without press and media around. Just good guys doing good things!
Washington, D.C.: Ted, what did you say to Bruce Boudreau after the series loss? I didn't think anyone had anything to be ashamed of - after a great season, and a fantastic Game 6 - even though it was disappointing of course. Sometimes it's hard as the boss to deal with those kinds of situations. How did you handle it?
Ted Leonsis: I gave him a hug. Said good job this year, we will mourn, then get back to work. We won't rest until we win a Cup. Isn't that what you would have said? It is the truth by the way :-)
Fairfax, Va.: Ted:
I have been a Caps fan since year one and had a media guide for every season in team history... until this year when the team decided not to print media guides to sell to the fans. Offering the Media Guide on the team website to download is nice, but I can't take my computer with me to the games and I can't easily grab my media guide whenever I want to look something up. Will you allow the team to print media guides for the fans to purchase next year?
Ted Leonsis: We are going green -- we are new media savvy. Sorry ... have to embrace the future.
Tenured Prof in Washington, D.C.: Will there be any tickets for college student nights this year?
Ted Leonsis: Not as many as in the past but some. Remember, I became a fan of the team in college -- $ 5 for a ticket, a hot dog and bus ride to arena!
Fairfax, Va.: Do you think D.C. and Verizon will ever play host to the NHL All-Star game?
Ted Leonsis: Yes I do, and a draft. One day we will. We did great for NCAA touney. That was an eye opener for everyone; thanks so much for all of that support.
Princeton, N.J.: Not a question, but a comment. The first game of the playoffs I attended last year was the best sporting event I have ever attended. Cal's last game (the second best) wasn't even close.
So much fun. I'm not a hard-core hockey fan, but you guys have done a great job. Congrats, and good luck.
Ted Leonsis: We are lucky. We have a great fan base, a great building, the red stands out. We are now being called one of the loudest and most knowledgable fan bases in the NHL! Thank you to everyone out there. Go Caps.
Washington, D.C.: I know Bruce and George did not use injuries as an excuse, but the injury list seemed signficant, especially among the defensemen. I know you may not want to use it as an excuse, but please tell me it contributed to the fact that the Pens outshot us in each of the 7 games ...
Ted Leonsis: Never complain, never explain. Pens beat us fair and square. We know what we have to do to improve. We played them very well; a break here or there and we move on. They are a little ahead of us in their rebuild --they started sooner and got another first pick in the draft with Crosby, and we picked 14th that strange draft year. We can't look back, just ahead. Oh yeah, we need to stay out of the penalty box too!
Ted Leonsis: My wife does to me!!!!!!!!!!!:Care to elaborate?
Ted Leonsis: She unleashes the fury :-).
Fairfax, Va.: Hi Ted, my fiance's family is from Pittsburgh and they always tell me about how they set up big screens outside the stadium for people to watch the game live. Do you think we'd ever be able to do something like that here? Maybe at Kettler?
Ted Leonsis: We have a big screen outside of Verizon -- we just don't have a lawn :-).
Arlington, Va.: OK, so I have been following the Caps the past couple of years and bought all of my tickets this last year on an individual game basis. I was considering season tickets next year, but after reading this chat, I am beginning to think that they are no longer an option. What is the scoop?
By the way - great job with the team. I never really knew much about hockey prior to watching the Caps and I have to say I just love the game experience you have created.
Ted Leonsis: We have literally no more season tickets left to sell. I think we may have a couple of singles here or there. We are holding 2000 I think per game to sell as singles, to groups, for college nights etc etc. We needed to do that, but yes, we coudl sell out completely just via season tickets. We/I dont think that would be fair.
Harrisburg, Pa: Ted,
Will you be in Hershey this weekend? You know you want to!
Ted Leonsis: I have my daughter's prom -- and a commencement speech that I promised I would make -- so I'll have to watch on my computer. I couldnt be prouder of Hershey!
L'enfant Plaza, Washington, D.C.: Ted,
I am graduating in three weeks from the GU Sports program that featured Caps GM George McPhee and VP of Ticket Sales Jim Van Stone as professors. These gentlemen were class individuals who brought a lot of knowledge to the table and challenged their students. I think you should encourage more of your staff to participate in these kinds of events so you can build your front office of the future!
Ted Leonsis: Ok. Will do.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Ted- Thank you for taking questions. It is well known the Capitals lose money even with their recent success. In this short space, could you briefly explain the mechanics of owning a franchise and how teams survive even with negative cash flow? Is it as simple as just owning an appreciating asset that will eventually return a capital gain upon sale?
Ted Leonsis: It will be tougher and tougher, as teams can't get debt financing any longer in this market. We are well positioned as we don't have debt on the team to buy it, and we have very little debt in operating level; We have paid cash for losses. But I think we all have to be more responsible. We are spending at the top of the cap in salaries and we are in the bottom of the league in average tix prices. So I guess you are asking us to raise prices to cut our losses? :-).
Ellicott City, Md.: Ted -- I'm loving this. Thanks for coming. Were you speaking tongue-in-cheeck when you said we need big, mobile centers? I agree, but none of the young prospects you mentioned fits this description. You also say we probably won't be using free agency to solve our problems. Should we be looking for a meaningful trade before training camp?
Ted Leonsis: No. Pens have three great young centers. Detroit has 3 great centers ... and one isn't even playing in the finals yet. Goaltending is important, D is important, wings are important and centers are important. We need to get yoiunger and bigger and faster at center-- but what do I know? :-)
Washington, D.C.: A quick one ... congrats on being so tech savvy ... sometimes these chats can really drag as the guest types out a response with two thumbs! Yours really moves along!
Ted Leonsis: I am using two fingers-- my wrists are klilling me!
Phone Booth: Can you change up the intro video? The rock star intro didn't really excite me (except for that one shot of brashear in the sunglasses)
Ted Leonsis: Sorry you specifically weren't happy!
Yes -- we will have a new video next season.
But that video you didnt like won best opener award from IDEA -- but your happiness is my biggest concern!
Washington, D.C.: Ted,
Off-topic, but any comment on Time Warner's plan to spin off AOL?
Ted Leonsis: Yes -- it is all goodness!
Ted Leonsis: Wow! that 65 minutes went by fast. Sorry I couldn't get through even half of the questions. I really did do my best. We can do this again before the season starts up again. Thank you so much for everything. Go Caps, enjoy the off season, then get ready to Rock the Red better than ever!
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