- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

With the Washington Capitals preparing for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory, fans are expected to flock to Verizon Center in numbers not seen since before the NHL lockout.

An agressive offseason sales campaign has resulted in more than 4,500 new season tickets, with about 94 percent of existing season-ticket holders choosing to renew. With club seats and suites included, the Caps said they expect to have 12,000 season-ticket equivalents, giving them their largest attendance base in years.

Team officials said last season’s Southeast Division title and first playoff berth since 2003 buoyed their sales efforts. They also credited the Caps’ stable of young talent, which includes reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin, for the sales boom. The Capitals doubled their sales staff in the offseason and boosted ticket sales through direct mail, phone calls and e-mails. The team also held several open houses at Verizon Center where fans could select seats in person.

“We’ve really had a great offseason,” Caps vice president for ticket sales Jim Van Stone said. “August and September are traditionally the strongest months, and we continued to sell at a great rate.”

Van Stone said there was strong response to the team’s partial and six-game ticket plans, including a plan with games against all former Patrick Division opponents.

The boost in season-ticket base will likely vault the Caps from the bottom tier of the NHL’s attendance rankings to the middle, where teams routinely average more than 16,000 fans a game. The team last year ranked 24th in the NHL with average crowds of 15,472.

Caps vice president of marketing Tim McDermott said the new energy around the team will allow him to roll out more than 20 initiatives, ranging from bobblehead giveaways to a ceremony to retire the number of Hall of Fame right wing Mike Gartner. McDermott said the team is designing a Web site geared toward female hockey fans that it expects to launch next month, and also hopes to produce a 30-minute weekly television show that could debut in January.

“The biggest thing I feel and the biggest thing I see is that there’s a tremendous sense of pride in being a Caps fan,” he said. “There’s just a different feeling. Morale is incredibly high.”

Team owner Ted Leonsis said he expects revenue to increase by more than $15 million this season, though he said team expenses will increase by even more because of a higher payroll. But he anticipates expenses will level off in future years while revenues will continue to increase.

“I’ve always thought this was a great market, but its up to us to find the formula, the product, the style of play, and the approach and the offering to activate it,” Leonsis said. “And we’re almost there. If we could sell a couple thousand more season tickets, we’d be sold out every game. There’s that much demand.”

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