Washington Capitals owner Abe Pollin, who has remained noncommital on the fate of his hockey team, yesterday telephoned Larry White of the Save the Caps Committee and praised the recent surge of fan interest.
"He said the groundswell of fan support from both individuals and businesses had been overwhelming, and that he's received hundreds of phone calls and letters," said White, an Olney hardware dealer. "He's very impressed."
White said Pollin told him he was "taking another look" at the situation, and that if such support continued "for the next 10-14 days, the chances for success are good."
White said Pollin would not elaborate further or answer questions. "But he did say thank you, that he appreciated what we are doing," he said.
Pollin did not return calls from The Washington Post yesterday, but it was confirmed that he had spoken with White in the morning.
The Save the Caps Committee was formed last week by fans concerned that the team would move from Washington if sold. The group is taking pledges for season tickets, in hopes of raising Capital Centre attendance to the sellout level.
White, who is chairman of the season-ticket drive, said after Pollin's phone call, "That 10-14 days tells me I have some breathing room, some more time to work. We just want to help save a hockey team."
Pollin has said recently he was seeking investors for the hockey team, which has lost $20 million during its eight-year existence. The possibility that the team could be moved if sold was voiced at last month's National Hockey League board of governors meeting. Peter O'Malley, the team's legal counsel, admitted the club's economic situation might force a sale that could result in a geographic shift.
A published report last week indicated that Prince George's County, where Capital Centre is located, could lose nearly $2 million annually if the Capitals were moved.
The arena, which is owned by Pollin and stands on public land, is home for both the Bullets and Capitals. It pays approximately $300,000 a year to the county in taxes, according to the County Executive's office. Events in the building generate additional spending in area restaurants, hotels and gas stations.
No sites for a Capitals move have been officially discussed. One group of potential buyers, represented by New York attorney-agent Art Kaminsky, would prefer to keep the team in Washington, according to Kaminsky.
That group is expected to make a formal offer to Pollin sometime in the next week. Another possible buyer is a group headed by Los Angeles businessman Harry Ornest. Pollin's asking price for the team is $7.5 million.
Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan said yesterday that he has been in touch with the Capitals organization "to ask if there's anything we can do to be of help" to keep the team in town.
Hogan said he had called O'Malley and told him he would be glad to help if he could. "O'Malley thanked me but said he didn't see what we could do right now," said Hogan.
Asked if he was trying to find new investors for Pollin's financially troubled team, Hogan said, "I don't have any access to those kinds of people. It's not like bringing in a new factory or business. Somebody (who is a potential buyer) has got to be a sports fan and have that special interest. Obviously Abe has those kinds of connections and is using them."
A recent newspaper story quoted Hogan as saying the problem was he couldn't find any investors, but if they could be found, he would help expedite the details personally.
Hogan said, "I did come up with one angle he (O'Malley) hadn't thought of. I said we would consider industrial revenue bonds to help a new buyer. We've never done it for an athletic team, but it's done for companies. He (a buyer) would get them at below-market rates, which usually means 4 to 5 percent below the prime rate. That is a big incentive."
O'Malley declined to comment on any conversation with Hogan.