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Caps' Leonsis puts 'Business of Happiness' to work

Wednesday, 02.10.2010 / 11:09 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Caps' Leonsis puts 'Business of Happiness' to work
Ted Leonsis has achieved happiness and success and now his Washington Capitals are living his philosophy
Ted Leonsis is so happy these days that he decided to write a book about it.
Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals, was in New York City Tuesday to promote his new book, "The Business of Happiness." The book is Leonsis' way of explaining to individuals and business leaders "that you have permission to be happy and you should be able to structure things to do things the right way," he told NHL.com.
The timing of the release of his book couldn't be any better. Leonsis' team is his shining example of how a business model can work and in the process make everybody, both inside the organization and outside in the community, happy.
The Capitals are on a rampage through the NHL these days.
Their 14-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's game in Montreal (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS) is a team record and only three shy of tying the NHL record. The Caps are tops in the NHL with 88 points and just happen to employ arguably the most exciting player in the game in Alex Ovechkin.
"You always see people write a book about how they did something after the fact, but you never read a book about how I think it will work," said Leonsis, who built his empire through his association with AOL in the 1990s and also has branched into the movie-making business.
"It's good that we're playing really, really well," Leonsis said. "I joke by saying if the team stinks and my movies are rotten, the book wouldn't sell. But I think we have proven that we know how to build enterprises and franchises that connect with fans and have a higher calling.
"The fans are very, very proud of the players and they have Alex Ovechkin. They have the greatest player in the world and they get to see him play every night."
A major part of Leonsis' business model is to keep in mind all of his clients, which is why he prides himself on his ability to "bypass the traditional media" through all of his multi-media habits.
He's the most accessible owner in the NHL to the fans because he communicates. He chats with the fans through his own blog, "Ted's Take," and via Facebook and Twitter. He also attends every game, where he engages in conversations and debates with the fans by walking around the concourses.
"I just grew up in this interactive world, so it's second nature to me," said Leonsis, who retired from AOL in 2006 and still serves as its chairman emeritus. "I have no more filter. People have a direct relationship with me and the team and that's a very, very powerful marketing tool."
As a professional, Leonsis is a die-hard businessman. At his core, he's a community leader. He wants nothing more than to see his team flourish because that means the community is, well, happy.
"The District" is all but flipping upside down these days with the Capitals' success. Television ratings have never been better and every game at Verizon Center is sold out. The building is always jumping thanks to the "Rock the Red" campaign.
"What I'm most proud of is we have built a team regardless of the sport that the casual fan has become attracted to," he said. "There has always been, in D.C., I would say 25,000 to 30,000 people that you can count on to come to all the games and watch on television, but I'm used to really, really big scalable businesses. I want millions of people, so now I think we are becoming part of the popular culture."
Leonsis, though, is very much like a fan when it comes to the business conducted in the hockey operations department. He steers clear and lets GM George McPhee, coach Bruce Boudreau and the staff of scouts do what they do best.
"The day I get involved in personnel decisions, I have to fire those guys, which means I don't believe and trust them," Leonsis said. "What I do is say, 'Here are the outcomes we want, here's how we want to do it, here's the culture we want and the vision and the resources.' But, the individual tactics, they do."
For instance, when the Caps' traded former captain Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina to Columbus for Jason Chimera on Dec. 28, Leonsis learned like everyone else.
He read about it and then came up with his own analysis.

"That's what I wanted to do, build a generationally great team. I don't think I would be exhibiting hubris by saying we're going to make the playoffs this year. That's our third year probably winning the division, and our best players are our young players. We have executed on our plan. We have stayed with it ... and it's thrilling to see it turning out the way it's turning out."
-- Ted Leonsis

"Now, I don't think he's going to trade Alex Ovechkin without telling me, but I knew as soon as I heard why (he traded Clark)," Leonsis said. "We were too strong on right wing, we needed help on left wing and he was going to move (Tomas) Fleischmann to center. When he did that, it gave us four lines that can play and score, and that's why I think we have become so dangerous and we are on this great run.
"There is an example of the general manager doing something and he didn't ask for my approval or blessing, he just did it."
The Capitals are thriving since the trade, and the business of happiness has never been better. Chin up and chest out, Leonsis is beaming these days because his business model is working.
"That's what I wanted to do, build a generationally great team," Leonsis said. "I don't think I would be exhibiting hubris by saying we're going to make the playoffs this year. That's our third year probably winning the division, and our best players are our young players. We have executed on our plan. We have stayed with it ... and it's thrilling to see it turning out the way it's turning out.
"Now, we have to win a Cup."
Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season