- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Talk about your marketing makeovers.
In their first 27 years of existence, the Washington Capitals struggled to even register on the radar of national sporting consciousness. There was just one trip to the Stanley Cup finals, few bona fide superstars, little network TV presence and minimal imagination to any team promotions until Ted Leonsis purchased the team two years ago.
But thanks to yesterday's trade for Jaromir Jagr, the Caps suddenly have their first true celebrity, a major draw for ticket buyers and a virtually certain significant presence on national TV.
"I do think this is a smart business move," majority owner Leonsis said. "I expect to sell more tickets. I expect to sell more sponsorships. But this deal is ultimately about winning."
Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Bobby Carpenter, Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig have enjoyed highly productive careers in Washington uniforms. Gartner recently gained election into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Kolzig has won a Vezina Trophy, Langway won two Norris Trophies and Bondra has claimed two goal-scoring titles.
But none of them has even approached the level of fame achieved by Jagr, a five-time scoring champion, two-time Stanley Cup champion, teen heartthrob and arguably the sport's most visible and recognizable face. Once his trade to Washington became public shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday, Caps ticket offices immediately were hit with phone calls.
Team officials said more than 150 season tickets were sold by 5:30 p.m. The trade should go a long way toward Leonsis meeting his short-term goal of 12,000 season tickets also the required number for any NHL expansion team. The Caps had nearly 11,000 sold by the end of the 2000-01 season, up from less than 3,000 just two years earlier.
The Caps' average attendance of 15,534 last season ranked just 20th in the NHL, but the 7 percent boost over the 1999-2000 season was sixth best.
"A cheer obviously went up among our sales staff once this got done," team president Dick Patrick said. "The phones all immediately lit up and have stayed in constant use since."
Thanks to Jagr's two-year $20.7 million contract, the Caps' payroll ascended from the mid-$30 million range to between $40 million and $50 million. But Leonsis is not anticipating any worsening of the nearly $20 million loss he posted last season, thanks to the expected increases in ticket and sponsorship sales.
"This is unquestionably a huge move for them," said Bob Williams, a Chicago-based sports marketing executive. "Jaromir is without a doubt a player that can sell tickets for them, and there's not many of those in hockey right now. He could very well be the team's anchor for a very long time."
Jagr represents the second time in just 18 months that Leonsis has brought a major star to Washington. The AOL Time Warner executive also played a central role in making Michael Jordan the president of the Washington Wizards and a Lincoln Holdings partner.
"We have a great team, and having a great team is what really gets people excited," Leonsis said. "But our profile certainly should be higher."
Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, the local TV rights holder for the Caps, already was formulating plans to air more than 65 games this season on the network and its local broadcast partners and was pre-selling advertising slots. Both efforts were immediately advanced by the Jagr trade.
"We're incredibly excited about this, but we were already sold on the Caps," president David Nevins said. "We were already planning to ramp up coverage, in-game and out of game. This is simply one more feather in our collective cap."

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