The Washington Capitals, who got off to their most successful start this season in the history of the franchise, have also dramatically boosted attendance figures, from an average of 8,905 at this point a year ago to 11,381 this season, after 15 home games at Capital Centre.

The surge places the Capitals well ahead of the Washington Bullets, whose average home attendance after 16 games has plummeted from 10,127 last year to 7,714 this year, a drop of 24 percent.

Both teams lag behind league attendance averages, but they reflect national trends, with hockey showing an increase and basketball showing a decrease.

National Hockey League figures show average game attendance at 12,400, but a league spokesman said that if this season reflects past patterns the figure probably will rise to around 15,000 by spring. So far, hockey has logged a 2.4 percent attendance boost over last year, a modest increase compared to the 28 percent boost in the Capitals' attendance.

By contrast, National Basketball Association figures reflect an average attendance drop from 10,011 at the end of November a year ago to 9,465 at the end of November this year. That is a 5 percent decrease, a significant loss, but less serious than that of the faltering Bullets, who are next to last in their division with a record of 14-18 after a disappointing season last year.

After a strong start, the Capitals' have most recently lost five straight, and December attendance has fallen off slightly. Average attendance for the four Capital home games so far this month has been 10,044.