At Capital Centre, the day of the discount is over.

Those cut-rate hockey tickets that attracted the curious and enraged customers who paid full price have been unceremoniously dropped from the Capitals' marketing plans.

Unlike some teams, the Capitals do not have crowds clamoring to get into their building, and they have leaned on lures such as marked-down tickets to swell attendance.

The result was less than a wholesale success.

"I wouldn't say it was a failure, but now it's time to change direction," said team owner Abe Pollin. "We've tried everything."

"Everything" included partial refunds of the ticket price to fans who weren't satisfied with the team's performance; interest earned on the price of season tickets being donated to Children's Hospital, and cut-rate tickets.

"Basically, those were used because so many people hadn't seen hockey before," said Lew Strudler, who has been the Capitals' marketing director for three weeks. "They helped by bringing in new people who wouldn't otherwise come to a game. But they also hurt. Season ticket holders were upset at others paying less."

There were also the standard promotional giveaway nights, 20 of them last season. Strudler said those will be cut drastically. "Sure, stick night and puck night," he said. "But largely, no."

Pollin is reluctant to talk about new marketing policy until his team is on firmer footing. Strudler, he says, has spent "200 percent" of his time on the club's ticket drive.

And Strudler is reluctant to discuss past mistakes in marketing strategy, saying, "My quick analysis is that the Capitals have done a tremendous job getting the fans in, and now it's time to concentrate on the area businesses."

For the team to continue operation this season, it must sell 7,500 season tickets and sell out its first 10 games, according to conditions set by prospective investors.

Through yesterday, the team had sold 4,855 season tickets, and 48,484 individual ones. That latter number reflects five sellouts guaranteed by area companies.

Last season, the Capitals sold 4,200 season tickets, 300 fewer than Colorado (now New Jersey), which teetered on the edge of bankruptcy most of the year.

Strudler wants to see an increase in companies that hold season tickets. Of last year's 4,200, about 40 percent were business-owned, in marked contrast to the New York Rangers' 16,000 season tickets, most of which are company seats.

The Philadelphia Flyers also sell about 16,000 season tickets, cutting off sales at that point to keep individual tickets available throughout the year. Boston sells 8,000 to 9,000, numbers on the rise, according to Steve Nazro of the Bruins' marketing department.

"Interest in our No. 1 draft choice has the phone ringing constantly," he said. "People are coming by to check on seat locations, and they're buying tickets, more than I've seen since 1973."

In Montreal, where the Canadiens are a religion, there is no such position as "marketing director" listed at The Forum, and virtually every home game is sold out.

The St. Louis Blues maintain about 10,000 season tickets, and they're counting on 90 percent renewals; 86 percent are in the fold so far. And the Blues are giving their season ticket buyers a discount of $1 a ticket.

No such incentive awaits Washington fans.

But Strudler says he isn't worried about attracting the purist hockey fan, who "knows what's happening with the team, and has come out again and again. What the Capitals want and need now is stronger support from companies."

Pollin said several years ago he telephoned business leaders, hoping to sell some tickets. "It was only a moderately successful effort," he said.

Without a strong community base, the Capitals -- or any team -- cannot develop a following beyond the die-hard hockey fan.

"In Washington, besides reaching the business community, you've got to educate it," said Strudler. "There are some people, particularly southerners, who have never seen a hockey game, and we've got to show them what it's about."

Failure to enlighten would-be followers was just one problem in Atlanta, where the Flames played for eight years before moving to Calgary in 1980.

Although copies of hockey's rules were handed out at the first games, most of the Flames' fans never got to know the sport well. Crowds filed out of the Omni after two periods, perhaps thinking the game had ended.

And aside from a small circle of hard-core fans, the Flames found little support, despite reaching the playoffs annually.

Their marketing director had come from promoting a circus. But selling hockey, even winning hockey, apparently was tougher than pushing elephants.

Pollin says he doesn't intend to model his team's selling approach after that of any other club. "Each town is different," he said. "We'll tailor-make our policy to fit the Caps."