- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

The Washington Capitals‘ run to the playoffs has created an unprecedented level of interest in new season tickets for the upcoming season.

The team is expected to boost its season-ticket base by as many as 5,000 seats this year, thanks in part to a sales campaign that has included monthly events at Verizon Center and an aggressive phone and direct mailing effort.

“It’s really going to be a great offseason for us,” Caps vice president of ticket sales Jim Van Stone said.

Hundreds of fans went to Verizon Center on Thursday for an open house featuring Caps defenseman Mike Green, and the team sold more than $100,000 in new season tickets during the event.

Patrick and Nancy Rey of Alexandria were among the new buyers. They bought a 22-game weekend package for two seats in section 104. Price tag: more than $3,100.

“These guys are like [what] athletes used to act like,” said Patrick Rey, who attended one Caps game last season. “You can’t not love these guys. They’re like a whole team of Brett Favres.”

Thousands more already have purchased new season-ticket packages for the season, and the renewal rate for existing season-ticket holders is at 91 percent and could go higher. Team officials said the Caps’ season-ticket base is on target to reach as high as 12,000, a nearly 40 percent boost over last season.

Van Stone said he was unsure of specific sales figures thus far because data on suite sales is incomplete, but a source with knowledge of the NHL’s ticket data said the Caps already have sold more than 3,000 new season tickets, making the team by far the top seller in the league.

The Caps have been among the NHL’s lowest teams in attendance in recent years, though they sold out nearly every game in last season’s final month. The Caps averaged 15,472 fans a game last season, placing them 24th in the league. The previous season, they ranked 27th with an average attendance of 13,929.

Season-ticket sales for 2008-2009 were brisk in February and March, when it appeared the Caps might have a shot at the postseason. Those sales peaked in April during the playoffs and hardly have fallen off after the NHL entered its offseason. The release of the Caps’ season schedule was a boost to sales as well, team officials said.

“It really hasn’t slowed down,” Van Stone said. “Traditionally, June and July are very slow months for NHL hockey sales, and we’ve been able to keep the momentum, and that’s been fantastic for us.”

The Caps have employed a number of strategies to keep the fans attuned to the team during the offseason with monthly events a main focus. Nearly 800 people attended an open house at Verizon Center last month to watch Alex Ovechkin win the NHL’s MVP award on the arena’s big screen.

“It’s a great way for us to keep connected since the end of the season,” Van Stone said. “[Team owner Ted Leonsis] really has a mission for us. He wants us to be connected for the entire summer with our fan base.”

The Caps doubled the size of their sales staff for this offseason and have been making more than 2,000 daily calls to potential ticket holders while also sending out thousands of mailers. Meanwhile, the team expanded its lineup of season-ticket options, introducing a new package allowing fans to select any 11 games they wish, plus a package that includes all 22 weekend games. The team is also offering four packages that include six of the most popular games on the schedule.

Jon Lensch, a student at the Community College of Baltimore, said Thursday he was considering upgrading his season tickets in section 403 to seats in section 120, closer to the ice. He said in the past he gave many of his tickets away to friends and family but made the drive to Verizon Center during the last 13 games of last season.

“It was crazy mileage on my car, but it was totally worth it,” Lensch said. “It’s exciting, man. It was like playoff hockey for the last three months of the season. It was awesome.”

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