- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Washington Capitals yesterday credited a busy summer for triggering brisk sales of season tickets during July, and team officials said it’s possible the team could boost its ticket base by more than 30 percent for the 2007-08 season.

Team officials said 118 season ticket plans were sold last month, up from 42 during July last year, and that new season tickets are selling twice as fast overall as a year ago.

I think the fan base is excited, Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said. We said we would be pretty active in the offseason, and I think we’re seeing it translate into good momentum.

The Capitals have made deliberate attempts to keep fans interested during the offseason. On the night of the NHL draft in June, the team held a party for fans at its Arlington practice facility, where it unveiled new uniforms. The signings of 2006 draft pick Niklas Backstrom and free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti generally have been viewed as positive moves by a team that has spent little to acquire players in recent years.

So far this year the team has sold 529 season tickets, up from about 250 at the same point last year.

There were so many things that kept us in the forefront during what is normally a very slow month, said Mike Humes, the Capitals‘ executive vice president and director of sales. July was a great month for us.

Humes said the team tried to project sales based on a seven-year trend and added an anticipated boost in sales into the equation. Ticket sales exceeded even those projections, he said.

The Capitals recorded an average attendance of about 13,900 last season at Verizon Center last season, placing them 27th out of 30 teams in the NHL. The team had a season ticket base of about 7,500.

Leonsis said increasing that base to 10,000 was not unrealistic. But he said reaching that number will depend on how many existing season ticket holders renew their plans. The team is targeting a renewal rate of 90 percent, but it has been closer to 80 percent in recent years.

If you can be at 90 percent and bring in new fans, that’s how we’ll grow, Leonsis said. I think we’re on a growth curve.

Leonsis said the league’s collective bargaining agreement is set up to allow teams to make a profit as long as they sell 80 percent of seats and have tickets priced at least 80 percent of the league average. The Capitals last year were below both those marks but also had a below-average payroll.

The Capitals this season kept ticket prices essentially flat from last year, and Leonsis said he has no plans to raise prices until attendance increases.