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Capitals reverse course, take down unpopular white netting

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Capitals fans at Verizon Center on Monday night weren't happy about the new white protective netting behind the goals. Some complained of headaches and eyesight problems, while others decried not being able to see certain parts of the ice or the scoreboard.

Those complaints got through to the team, and less than 24 hours after the game the Caps announced Tuesday that the old black netting would return for the next preseason game, Friday against the Sabres.

"We took a closer look at the Verizon Center protective netting today, and it clearly isn't what we had anticipated. It hinders the fan experience and it is not an asset to our local rights holder, Comcast SportsNet," owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog. "We were attempting to improve the arena and television viewing experience, but we fell short of that mark."

According to Monumental Sports & Entertainment spokesman Kurt Kehl, the team brought a CSN camera crew into the arena to see how the new white netting looked for viewers at home.

"We decided to go down and look at it like we said we would. Comcast SportsNet and the fans both agreed: It wasn't acceptable," Kehl told The Washington Times. "If it wasn't acceptable to our fans, we weren't going to move forward with it."

According to a report by Mike Vogel on the Caps' official website, the idea was to improve how fans could see the puck. But CSN acknowledged Tuesday it was not an upgrade.

"After seeing the white netting in place at Verizon Center, the network feels that it obstructs with end-zone camera positions more than the previous material," CSN spokesman Brian Potter said via email. "Our goal is to provide the clearest picture possible from all angles, so we will work with the team to identify the best material for spectators and viewers."

Protective netting was made mandatory in 2002 after a puck left the playing surface and struck and killed 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil in Columbus.

There was initially some backlash about the netting disrupting views in NHL arenas, but safety was considered the top priority. It took fans time to adjust to that change, and several arenas, including Scottrade Center in St. Louis and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, enjoyed success with white netting.

But it was obvious from fans watching on an Internet video stream - and especially in the arena - that the white netting proved to be a problem. Weber Grandish, 36, of Arlington said it was like "looking through a snow storm."

"The skaters on the ice were all diluted and the puck was washed out from looking through white netting to the white ice surface. My brother, sitting next to me, said it's like watching hockey through a microwave door," said Stacie Beasley, 33, of Upper Marlboro. "It was giving me a headache to try to watch play through the new white netting."

Guest services employees took down what some called a long list of season-ticket-holders who were unhappy about the netting. Many of them were just as thrilled Tuesday upon finding out the Caps heard the complaints and responded.

"It's great to see that the Capitals organization listens to its fans and takes seriously the comments that were made about the white netting," said Glenn Dayoan, 51, of Manassas. "What's more important, is the quick action taken by the team in dealing with the issue at hand. This is why I am a Capitals fan."

The white netting was designed to be permanent, according to Vogel's report Monday. Many fans were told the same thing.

But the uproar was enough to signal a change.

"We'll chalk it up as a preseason experiment gone awry," Kehl said.

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