The Return of The Fair-Weathered Fan

By Mikkel Wallech

March 4, 2010

With the Wizards having arguably their worst year in franchise history and the Redskins and Nationals fresh off another terrible season, the residents of Washington need something to believe in and they have found it in the Washington Capitals.

The team has played in front of sold out crowds of 18,277 fans at the Verizon Center, their home arena, 14 of their last 15 games and are averaging over 18,000 fans a game this season, up roughly 30 percent from last year and the most per game in franchise history. 

The team loves the attention, but the diehards aren’t so accepting, like season ticket holder Dan Johnson.

“I’ve had season tickets for the last 17 years, including the brown bag years, and can name you most of the players who have ever played for us,” said Johnson.  “All of the sudden I have some guy sitting beside me who doesn’t know what an icing is, it’s really frustrating.”

It was just a few years ago that the Capitals were at the bottom of the standings and only the die-hards came to the rink.  After the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997-98, they failed to win another playoff series for 10 years, but the team turned it around two years ago and have been winning on a regular basis ever since. 

The teams’ worst years were between 2003 and 2007.  A season with 59 points, followed by a league-wide lockout and back to back seasons of 70 points had the team near the bottom of the standings and the arena empty.

The team was ridiculed by opposing teams and was referred to as the “Crapitals” in the media, but the true fans remained, like Arlington, Va resident John Zampelli.

“Now the fans Rock the Red, but a few years ago it was dress like the seat night every night,” said Zampelli.  “There were around 10 thousand fans if you were lucky and the rest were just seats.  I used to get lower level tickets that are now $150 for $20, it was amazing.”

Tickets prices are also why some fans are having trouble accepting the newcomers.  Andy Wright, a Frederick, Md native, uses the popular classifieds site Craigslist to find tickets and says he only goes to a few games a year now that prices have risen.

“I used to get on Craigslist the day of the game and people would sometimes literally be giving the tickets away and other times you could find lower levels for $30 or $40, now I can barely afford tickets,” said Wright.  “I like that the Caps are getting attention, but it’s kind of like, hey, get your own team.”

Winning has always been considered the best marketing tool and with the team currently first overall in the league, Washington Capitals marketing team member Josh Harding says people are doing his job for him

 “Let’s just say I don’t do much cold-calling anymore,” said Harding.  “I have people emailing me wondering about season tickets and people from schools, organizations, companies, etc emailing me about player appearances.  Everyone is in love with this team right now and it’s showing.”

It’s cool to like the hottest team and the Capitals are the best right now, but the die-hard fans, like Tom White, knows the fans like a winner and says the Caps may gain a few true fans, but most will leave when the wins become less frequent.

“Just wait until we start losing, which will happen, these things happen in cycles, or if the Redskins ever decide they want to win again,” said White.  “We saw this when they brought in that cry-baby Jagr from the Penguins, fans flocked to the Verizon Center just to see him and then they were done, got bored, whatever.  Hockey isn’t for everyone, but everyone likes a winner.  One or two may stick, but just wait, most will hop on their wagon and leave soon enough.”

Below is a video of a packed Verizon Center during a game in 2008, compared to a picture of Caps fans at a Penguins game in 2007, any noticable differences?

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