The Capitals against Penguins, Canadiens and assorted other National Hockey League creatures, and the Bullets versus Rockets. SuperSonics and similarly high-flying National Basketball Association foes will not provide the only competition at Capital Centre this fall.
Off the ice and the hardwood floor of the Landover arena; long into the winter and spring of pro sports' endless season, the marketing staffs of the local hockey and basketball franchises will be locked in combat for the area sports fan's dollar.
This is a battle of slogans emblazoned on pencils, lapel pins, and posters: the Caps' 'The Hardest Working Team in Hockey' vs. the Bullets "Loaded With Hustle"; of gimmicks conventional and novel: of sales forces out combing city and suburbs, seeking fans, peddling plans.
What does it all means to the consumer? Those who pick thei spots can, for the regular price of admission, get a date into the game for free, or children for half-price. Or come away with hats, hockey, sticks, basketballs and other goodies - all "quality merchandise," the teams insist, in keeping with the upbeat image they are trying to project.
If the marketing directors are correct in assuming their sports will sell themselves to those properly exposed, the consumer could even become an addict on nights when there are no freebies.
Bargain and special promotion nights are tools in the long-range marketing strategy to lure new fans, and convince those who already attend that they should do so more often.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who have sold every ticket to every home game since World War II, do not need a "Double-Runner Skates Night." The tenants of the Capital Centre have plenty of empty seats to sell for most games, so marketing means more than putting ducats in envelopes.
Thus the Caps recently announced a schedule of 13 promotions, starting with the "Dash for Groceries" on Nov. 8, an NHL version of TV's erstwhile "Supermarket Sweepstakes." Thousands of dollars worth of goods from the shelves of sponsoring Grand Union will be placed at center ice, and fans chosen at random given the opportunity to take home all they can grab within a specified time. This will take place after the game, lest a skater tumble on a frozen prune or a King become a cabbage.
The Caps will repeat the "Year of the Uniform" promotion that was so successful that several NHL teams have copied it. It begins Nov. 11 with "Hat Trick Night" first 5,000 fans through the doors receive knit ski caps with the team logo. By season's end, any youngster who has gone early to "Stick Night" (Dec. 2), "Jersey Night" (Jan. 7), "Puck Night" (Jan. 27), "Gym Bag Night" (Feb. 17), "Backpack Night" (March 3), and "T-Shirt Night" (March 19) will be quite fashionably equipped and outfitted.
Among the other specials are "Family Night" Dec. 27 vs. Boston when the head of a household purchasing a full-price ticket can buy adjacent seats for family members at half-price; "Date Night" Feb. 14 (Valentine's Day), when anyone purchasing a full-price ticket for the game against Vancouver will receive another in the same price category free; and "Wheels Night," March 24, when random customers will be presented wheeled vehicles ranging from skateboards to Mopeds in honor of visiting Detroit.
Not to be outdone, the Bullets have 14 specials nights and days, including "Lottery Night," Nov. 30 vs. San Antonio, when the first 5,000 customers through the turnstiles get Maryland tickets; "Basketball Night," Dec. 25 vs. Atlanta, for 5,000 kids who forgot to ask Santa for a ball; and two "Date Nights," Dec. 28 against Buffalo and again March 17 vs. Indiana, in case the first one worked out.
"There is a great rivalry between us and the Bullets," says Andy Dolich, the Capitals' tireless, organized and evangelical marketing direector, who is living proof that the team's work ethic ("Hard work gets it done.") applies to the front office as well as the players.
"We're selling two different products to two different markets, but we're competing for the sports dollar. It's a constant race that never ends, but you like to stay a step ahead. If somebody goes to see the Bullets they may not come to see us, but if he goes to the movies instead we're both out of luck.
"It's very healthy competition. It keeps everybody on their toes, productive, eager, and thinking."
Chip Reed, the Bullets' director of marketing says, "We recently changed advertising agencies. When we shared one with the Caps, it was like a father with two sons or a man with two hats. If they had a great idea, they needed two. We thought we'd be better off with someone working exclusively for us."
Formerly director of season ticket sales and promotions. Reed assumed expanded responsibility for group sales and advertising Sept. 1. He is intent on closing the unspoken marketing on closing the unspoken marketing gap with the Caps who, despite the severe handicaps of an area traditionally unacquainted with hockey and an expansion team that won only 19 games its first two seasons, have earned respect as the NHL's most progressive organization for marketing and community relations.
Several of Reed's pet projects already have revealed: the cheer-leading "Bullettes," who opened to mixed reviews and the series of radio jingles flooding local airwaves.
"'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' means baseball and 'Sweet Georgia Brown' brings to mind the Globetrotters," says Reed. "We wanted something people would immediately identify with the Bullets. The jingles are real corny, but the time stays with you and the lyrics change for each visiting team.
Reed admits he couldn't carry a melody if you gave him Linda Ronstadt's purse, so he called in a lieutenant. Avory McLean, to render a few sample bars. "They go something like this," he said, starting to creen sheepishly: "The Bucks are comin' to town to try and maim us, but they're not going to make Milwaukee famous . . ."
Behind the cornucopia of gimmicks are elaborate, carefully thought out marketing plans. Implementing them requires hard work, organization, attention to myriad details and cultivation of sponsors.
Dolich and Reed both have staffs of salesmen who work door to door as well as by phone and direct mail. If they are unable to sell season tickets, partial-season plans or even individual game tickets, they are told to leave a good impression, a kernel of goodwill, so maybe the reluctant buyer will change his mind later on.
"We are in a selling posture," says Dolich, who preaches that Caps' customers should be treated like family, and every game as entertainment. "A winning team is the strongest attraction, but we try to do other things to add class and make and evening enjoyable."
A graduate of the Ohio University School of Sports Administration. Dolich is a pro in the sophisticated business of deciding which potential fans are the most likely buyers and how best to reach them with limited manpower and advertising promotion dollars. The "Year of the Uniform," for example, was carefully conceived and clever.
"We've got to constantly educate people and introduce them to hockey," says Dolich. "We decided that we could cut across the widest social, ethnic and economic spectrum by emphasizing street hockey, which kids can play as easily as basketball in the playgrounds. Every give-away night increases attendance, and the whole program increases it for future games."
The variety of group and season ticket plans the Bullets offer also are tailored to meet specific objectives. The new "Playoff Preview Package" - six games instead quality opponents for the price of five - was the result of a marketing study that showed that a majority of spectators attend only two or three games a season.
"If we can get those people to come six times, we'll exceed our goal of averaging 13.000 to 14.000 per game this year," says Reed. (Last year the Bullets drew 467.145 for 41 regular season games, an average of 11.408 per game. The Caps drew 437.252 for 40 regular season games, averaging 10.257. Capital Centre seats 19.035 for basketball and 18.130 for hockey.)
"We won't be satisfied until we sell out every seat for every game: only that is real success," says Dolich. He knows that is a tall order, especially since Washington is a unique market that has built-in stumbling blocks for every team except the entrenched and perennial sold-out town darlings, the Redskins. Pro teams target their advertising and season ticket sales at local industry, but the federal government is not like General Motors.
"This isn't Detroit or Pittsburgh or any other city," says Dolich. "You can't sell a block of season tickets and $100,000 worth of advertising to the CIA. Most government agencies are legally restrained from even buying group tickets. It's a problem we have to unlock." CAPTION: Picture 1, Bullet marketing director Chip Reed,; Picture 2, and Capital Centre rendor display ammunition of trade. Photos by Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Picture 3, Andy Dolich, No caption