So as the Capitals go into Wednesday's draft, the franchise remains in limbo. They aren't selling tickets, they aren't inviting the customers as usual to lunch on draft day, the owner is incommunicado as he searches for a buyer, and the general manager's title still is preceded by the reminder adjective "acting."
Did you say they aren't selling tickets?
Presuming there exists a person with a mad desire to see these acting Capitals next season, I called yesterday for season ticket information. The conversation went like this . . .
"Hi, could you give me information on your season tickets?"
"Right now all we're doing is accepting a $50 deposit on season tickets, because the prices haven't been set or the packages worked out."
"How much were the tickets last year?"
"They were $440, $360 and $240."
"Well, when will you know this year's prices?" I asked.
"Hopefully, in the next few weeks."
"I guess, like everything else, the prices will be higher?"
"I don't know that."
"Why don't you know--it is June something--the prices yet?"
"Until the owner tells me, I can't say. But if you could give me your name and address, we'll mail you the information."
"No. Thank you, anyway."
This is an extraordinary conversation in the sports business, for here we have a major league team that won't sell a season ticket to a mad-with-desire customer.
Season tickets are the lifeblood of any franchise. They provide (1) immediate cash, and (2) an investment return on the cash deposited in money-market funds or certificates of deposit. So every big league franchise considers season tickets vital and starts selling as soon as the season ends.
Yet it has been more than two months since the Capitals' last game, and they aren't selling tickets.
Nor have they asked last year's season ticket holders to renew. These season ticket renewers, by the way, customarily are asked to lunch at Capital Centre on draft day to share the perennial hopes of an organization that on other draft days has bypassed Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy to choose Greg Joly and Robert Picard. Since the Capitals haven't mailed out renewal forms, there's no free lunch.
It is fascinating, of course, to stumble across stuff that can't be explained. Why not sell tickets?
Because Pollin is a good businessman, one would think he had a devotion to taking in money. But by not selling tickets, Pollin takes in no money. Even if he wanted to sell the franchise, it would be more attractive with season ticket holders than without.
Even the Capitals' long-suffering fans must be saying the hell with it.
Pollin won't speak to them. His only words on hockey for months now have been to say Washington is a good hockey town but the Capitals haven't given the city a team worth its attention.
Who is Pollin talking to when he says that?
The fans know the Capitals are terrible. They know the New York Islanders, only two years older than the Capitals, have won three straight Stanley Cups and have played 112 playoff games. The Capitals have never been in the playoffs.
So who is Pollin trying to persuade when he says Washington is a good hockey town?
A guess at the answer: anybody with lots of money who will believe him and buy the Capitals.
Assorted sources in town have connected Pollin with a series of prospective buyers. One possibility said to be alive is that the Capitals' legal counsel, Peter O'Malley, wants to put together a group of investors. O'Malley's office reported yesterday that he is on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Two Northern Virginia attorneys representing a group showed interest in buying the team, which reportedly lost $3 million last season.
Canadian groups have spoken with Pollin, sources said, but those talks fell through. Also dead apparently is interest once expressed by automobile dealer Jacques J. Moore, who, sources said, talked to Pollin about buying the whole package--the Capitals, Bullets and Capital Centre. Pollin didn't return a phone call yesterday, while Moore confirmed that he talked to Pollin about a deal as long as two years ago "but it would be fair to say our talks are apparently over."
Pollin's asking price, estimated at near $50 million for the package, is too high, a sports-business source said.
So Pollin seems at a dead end. He can't sell the Capitals because nobody wants them at his price. And he can't fold them because the terms of his financing for Capital Centre demand the tenancy of a major league hockey team.
Meanwhile, Pollin apparently is losing another business battle. His cable-television company bidding for the Montgomery County franchise was rated fifth best by a cable expert reporting to the county, making him a longshot.One of Pollin's sales pitches for the franchise was the certain availability of Capital and Bullet games.
Now, most likely, if he is to make any cable-TV money selling his teams' games, Pollin will have to go to the winning company and make a deal. If human nature holds, that company isn't likely to do any favors for a fellow who used his teams in an attempt to win the franchise himself. It doesn't rain, it pours.