- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Washington Capitals have seen a 16 percent increase in ticket revenue over the last year as new marketing and promotion efforts have triggered a bump in sales of single-game tickets.

The team said the average number of single game tickets sold a game has risen by 44 percent since the season began in October and that walk-up sales — tickets purchased in the three hours before a game — have risen 41 percent. Capitals officials also reported a modest increase in sales of so-called “VIP” seats located in the first two rows of Verizon Center’s lower bowl.

Single-game and walk-up sales have increased every month this season and were particularly brisk in January, when the team sold an average of more than 4,000 single-game tickets and 1,000 walk-up tickets a game. Ticket prices, meanwhile, are virtually the same as last year, the team said.

Mike Humes, the team’s director of sales, and Tim McDermott, the team’s marketing director, joined the team in August and still are collecting data to determine how sales compare to the 2005-06 season. But the sales figures they quote from this year suggest crowds at Capitals games are growing, even though official attendance numbers from the league show attendance is essentially flat from last year.

Through 27 home dates, the Capitals have a reported attendance of about 13,280 a game, placing them 27th in the league. But Capitals officials point out the NHL’s official attendance figures are designed to reflect “tickets distributed,” including all free and complimentary tickets given to fans, charities and sponsors. Capitals officials said they have reduced the number of complimentary tickets in the last year by about 25 percent. Instead of giving tickets away to potential fans, the team has convinced them to spend money on single-game tickets or small packages consisting of four, five or 11 games.

“We felt we didn’t necessarily have to give out free tickets for people to see the product,” Humes said. “We felt people were willing to pay to come.”

The team is eagerly trying to sell more single-game tickets, hoping that some of those paying customers will buy season ticket plans next year. The Capitals now have about 8,500 season ticket holders, down from nearly 12,000 during the 2001-2002 season.

Aware of this drop, Capitals officials have rolled out some of the most aggressive sales promotions by the team in years. In December, the team began selling four-game “holiday packs,” then modified the deal into a “buy four, get one free” promotion that extends until March. The team offers $8 tickets for children on weekends and last month began a promotion for college students at every home game, selling a ticket and free Papa John’s Pizza coupon for $21.

The team’s five-game packages are new, along with a promotion giving discounts for people who buy tickets to the Capitals and Georgetown Hoyas basketball games.

Other upcoming promotions include a “Hockey in Heels” night for women Feb. 26 and “two-for-one” ticket nights on various dates throughout the season, including tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins.

Earlier this year, the team sent out direct mailing targeted at groups of potential fans, inviting them to sit in a variety of different seats at Verizon Center. Humes said 16 percent of the respondents ended up buying tickets.

Whether any of these new fans will stick is unclear. But there are other signs that point to the D.C. area as being a good hockey town, team officials said. Ratings for the NHL on NBC are up 50 percent in the D.C. area, even though the Capitals have yet to play a nationally televised game. And when fans from Baltimore are included, the region has the fifth-most viewers of all markets in the country. The Baltimore market will be a main focus of sales efforts going forward, team officials said.

“We have a lot of different metrics that seem to show the Caps are headed in the right direction,” McDermott said. “We have a lot of opportunities in front of us.”

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