David Poile, completing his first year as general manager of the Washington Capitals, says the hockey team still is having difficulties in marketing, despite its first-ever playoff berth. In an interview this week with staff writers Bart Barnes and Evan Charkes, Poile also discussed the status of center Dennis Maruk and plans to keep the nucleus of the team together. Here are excerpts of the interview:
Q: About a year ago it seemed no one knew from day to day whether there was going to be a Capitals organization or, if there was one, whether it was going to be in Washington. What about this summer?
A: Obviously if you were to talk to any of the people here, they feel so much better about this summer than last summer. That's because the team's competitive. I've got the thing broken down into off-ice and on-ice. . . . made some strides with the team on the ice as far as competitiveness. We're working very hard on our image. The workaholics name has been tagged to the team a little bit by the media. I like that. I think that's very flattering to the organization.
The second thing is everything--and that's the selling of tickets.
We've got to call it like it is. We have one of the lowest bases of season tickets in the whole National Hockey League. Last year they finished up just a little over 5,000 season tickets here. And that's never going to be enough to make this into a successful franchise. Right at this point we've had a little more than 4,000 renewals.
We have got our work cut out for us. What are we going to be able to sell between now and Oct. 1? And this to me is going to be very important when you're looking at the long-range plans of this franchise. And I would hope that we'd have 7,000 to 7,500 season tickets for next year, but . . . it's going to take a selling job . . .
We're in the entertainment business, and we're trying to sell ourselves, and we're also trying to sell the Capital Centre, which I'm not sure the business community has been sold on before. And we have a lot of things to offer here from a business relationship; we have rooms where people can come and eat dinner if they want to entertain a client; we have bigger rooms if they want to bring a party and have a buffet dinner or something like that. We're contacting the top 100 companies in Washington, Fortune 500, we're working with the Washington Round Table, the lobbyists group here, because this is where we feel that the tickets have got to be sold.
Q: We had the Save the Caps campaign last summer, and this summer you seem to be certainly in a different place from where you were a year ago. Are you reasonably confident that when we get to the summer of 1984, we're not going to have another Save the Caps campaign or something similar?
A: Well, I personally am, but I wouldn't be afraid if you wrote that that could happen. We have got to show increases all the time. We need to sell better. Talk about image again. I want our players to live in Washington, be part of it, I want our players to be in with the Redskins, to go to the golf tournaments, to be at the right places, to be seen . . . I want the Washington Capitals to be part of the community.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the health of the league, specifically in light of the situation with the St. Louis Blues? Do you feel that's an isolated situation?
A: No, unfortunately it's not isolated because the Washington Capitals went through it last summer, and two summers before that I was with the Atlanta Flames, and they were sold to Calgary, so the NHL has a little bit of a credibility problem if you will. And the publicity that we've received in these situations can't do anything to help our product.
Q: Did you have a meeting this morning (Tuesday) with Dennis Maruk?
A: That seems to be my No. 1 question all the time, "Are you going to trade Dennis Maruk?" I talked to a lot of teams about Dennis, and obviously there was nothing done in that area. We just had a meeting with Brian Murray, the coach; Dennis and myself, to talk about last year and exactly where and whether Dennis fits into our plans next year.
I think we got down to the nuts and bolts of what the real problems are. I think that we've made some good headway as far as understanding each other, so I'm more optimistic right now that Dennis is going to be with us for next season than, say, I was the first of June . . .
Dennis had a very inconsistent year . . . Dennis played a lot of time at left wing, a position that he was not too comfortable with nor, I think, happy with. We just have to have a better understanding of each other's goals . . . It's not as important for Maruk--and the Washington Capitals--to score 50 or 60 goals as it is for him to score 30 or 40 goals, and us to play winning hockey.
I think he translated goals into dollars and I tried to assure him that I translate winning into dollars. And it's that type of a format that we're trying to work with, with Dennis and every other player on our hockey club.
He has outstanding ability, he has a tremendous knack to put the puck in the net. But a player that is not happy at a hockey club attitude-wise, can have a very negative and devastating effect on a club.
Q: Are you going to make any big trades?
A: I'm not looking to make a trade. We had 12 new hockey players on our club last year when we started, and that's been the history of the Washington Capitals: trades and turnover each and every year, and there is no continuity or fan identification with what a Washington Capital is.
Now I never say never and I'll always keep my eyes and ears open but all things being equal I would be very prepared and very happy and confident to go into next season with the club that we have.
And I think that does a lot of things for us. It's bringing back, in essence, 90 percent of the club that was here last year. It gives the players a little more of a feeling of stability, I think you get into some words like loyalty towards an organization.
So . . . I would hope that we've already got the nucleus of the club that's going to be here for a few years, because we certainly don't have any age problem.