As we wound down the 2006-07 NHL season, we began to let fans know that “Change Was Coming” via several different mediums. More than six months later most of those changes have been implemented, others are on the horizon and we stand ready to embark on the 2007-08 season. A long summer passed in the interim, and our goal is to make summer shorter in these parts beginning in 2008.
From a hockey perspective, we have continued to focus on drafting well and making smart trades. This summer was the time to sign key free agents to meet our needs. I’ve declared that the rebuild is over. Yes, we’re always looking to improve our roster, but we have a great mix of players who are prepared to compete for a playoff spot.
With Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson in goal, we have continuity and two very capable veterans. Olie is closing in on 300 career wins, and Brent is closing in on 100. This will be their third season together, and the two of them support each other very well. We believe we’ve put together a team that should be easier for them to play behind, a team that should be able to limit shots and chances more than in the past two seasons. The goaltending should be in very good hands.
Signing Tom Poti and adding him to our defense gives us a very good puck-moving blueliner who is capable of playing 25 minutes a night and playing in all situations. He will help us at even strength, his puck distribution skills will help us on the power play and his intensity will help our penalty kill. We also believe that he can help us groom Mike Green, the 22-year-old defenseman we chose in the first round of the 2004 Entry Draft. Green had a tremendous training camp, and skated most of it alongside Poti.
The rest of the defense consists of a couple of our first-round draft choices (Steve Eminger and Jeff Schultz), a couple players signed via free agency (Brian Pothier and John Erskine) and a couple of players acquired in separate trades with Boston (Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina). They’re the deepest group we’ve had here in a few years, and they’re all young and improving.
Up front on the forward lines is where you’ll see most of the tangible changes. We’ve brought in two veteran centers, Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov. You’ll remember Michael, who was with us previously for 74 games. We believe these two players are going to help get the puck to and create scoring chances for Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. We also feel that they can help nurture young forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann.
Backstrom was our first choice (fourth overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After a season in his native Sweden, he will begin his North American pro career as a 19-year-old. He is a center by trade, and he will be a center, but coach Glen Hanlon has decided to help ease his transition and remove some pressure by playing him on the wing.
Fleischmann, by the way, is one of six members of the 2006 Calder Cup championHersey Bears to crack the opening night roster. The others are Green, Jeff Schultz, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and David Steckel. That’s tangible evidence of the development that is occurring in Hershey. Our affiliation with the Bears is now in its third season, and we continue to be very pleased with the relationship on and off the ice.
The Alexes and the new additions will get a lot of credit if we end up being the team we think we can be. But don’t overlook Chris Clark. He’s our captain, the player who has led our younger players and showed them how to be successful NHL players. Here’s all you need to know about the type of player and leader Chris Clark is: to start the season he’s slotted on a checking line, playing a very different role than he did the past two years skating with Alex Ovechkin. Yet I sat with him at a town hall forum on the first day of training camp and he sincerely embraced playing on a “third line” with Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger. That group could make a great shutdown line, one that could produce a lot of goals as well.
That line should carry on the reputation that we’ve established the past two seasons as a team that’s hard working and difficult to play against. I think a lot of our players fit that bill. Look at returning players like Donald Brashear, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley and Brian Sutherby. Nobody will outwork these guys – they add grit, toughness and a bit of attitude to the team.
It’s worth noting that we have turned over more than a third of the roster since last year’s opening night – new this season are: Backstrom, Fleischmann, Jurcina, Kozlov, Nylander, Poti, Schultz and Steckel.
For those of you who have attended any of the preseason games, you couldn’t help but be impressed with the new high-definition LED scoreboard at Verizon Center. It is a fantastic display that also includes new ribbon boards and corner displays for stats.
There are four high-definition video screens, each measuring 14 feet, 5 inches high by 25 feet, 2 inches wide, providing fans with the highest clarity of all the action as well as terrific replays. The new center-hung scoreboard also features four 5 foot, 3 inch high by 25 foot 6 inch wide LED video matrixes and two LED rings. The existing LED boards and signage areas were renovated and now there is more than 1,000 feet of linear LED fascia. It’s just an incredible visual that will dramatically increase the in-game experience for our fans.
I thank Abe Pollin and his staff at Washington Sports and Entertainment for the great job they have done not only with the scoreboard but also the other enhancements they have made at Verizon Center. These changes will significantly improve the arena for hockey games, basketball games, concerts and other events that visit the facility.
Kettler Capitals Iceplex
How great it was to finally hold our summer development camp and this year’s training camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Coaches, players, front office staff and fans all have raved about the new training facility. And it was great to see so many of you at training camp, enjoying the hockey as well as the other activities, such as Fan Fest, Kids Day and Heroes Day. We used Kids Day to launch our new Caps Kids Club, so if you have kids, this is a new, fun way to get them into the sport and the Caps. Compared with last year, Kettler alone will make us a better team and more centralized to our fan base.
Sales are up
"When you hear from someone who's been inside the dressing room, it's a lot more convincing that a normal call." -- Capitals LW Donald Brashear
As you know, the lifeblood of a hockey franchise is its fan base, and our season-ticket holders have responded in an extremely positive fashion this year, renewing at an 85% rate. This is our highest percentage for renewals in six years, and we had a little extra help this year. Our players came into the front office one day after practice, making calls to those fans who had not yet renewed – now that’s a partnership.
Our new season ticket sales have been exceptionally strong. As of the end of September, new full-season ticket sales are up 113% when compared with last year at this time.
We also have introduced several mini-plans, such as Pack the House Six Packs, which features some of our most attractive opponents as well as a Saturday-only package and an “old-time hockey” plan. These are new and creative packages designed for existing fans as well as a means of attracting new fans. If you’re on the fence about hockey or the Caps, a plan starting at $99 a ticket and includes opening night and games against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Toronto and the Rangers should be an enticing package.
Similarly our group sales business is way up, more than 400% when compared to last year at this time. We have taken a more targeted approach and have seen some of our biggest increases in family packs and fund-raising programs, especially our Pucks to Bucks amateur hockey initiative.
Where you’ll see and hear us
We are embarking on a new flagship radio partnership with Bonneville International and Talk Radio 3WT, which broadcasts on 1500 AM, 107.7 FM and 820 AM. It’s a fantastic signal and will allow us to hopefully reach many new and potential fans. We also will broadcast a weekly Caps show on Saturday from 6-7 p.m. I’m going to be on the inaugural show this Saturday, shortly after 6 p.m. on the Verizon Center concourse.
Bonneville also operates WTOP, and we are excited about the cross-promotional opportunities between the stations and the Caps. Earlier this week I sat in with David Burd, who hosts the Tony Kornheiser Show on 3WT when Tony is tending to his Monday Night Football duties. Later this month, Oct. 11, I’m doing a one-hour “ask the owner” segment on WTOP with Bruce Alan.
From a television perspective, we have several highly productive and engaging discussions this summer with Comcast SportsNet and their approach to covering and promoting our games this year. You will see a variety of these elements rolled out this month as well as others to come throughout the season. Comcast SportsNet did a fantastic job with Caps Week, which featured classic games, roundtable discussions and various features leading up to tomorrow’s season opener in Atlanta. With the exception of national broadcasts, our games will be carried locally on Comcast SportsNet or their new channel, Comcast SportsNet Plus. Just go to the CSN website and enter your zip code to determine what channel in your area is carrying Comcast SportsNet Plus.
Hopefully some of these broadcasting changes will help to resolve issues we have heard from fans regarding the coverage area of our radio flagship and concerns about games that were televised on other local outlets.
In addition to our broadcast partners, we continue to use an extremely targeted approach to our advertising and marketing. You’ll see and hear advertisements in the mainstream media, but we’ll also utilize what some call “nontraditional” advertising – I just call it advertising and marketing strategies that are effective and efficient.
We’ll continue to use Internet-based adverting with the help a firm called Advertising.com, which is owned by AOL. In short, this technique tracks a fan’s web browsing habits and drops a banner advertisement on various sites. For example, you come to WashingtonCaps.com and then browse ESPN.com. There’s a high likelihood ESPN.com will serve a Caps banner ad since that site now recognizes you as a Caps-friendly visitor. I probably get more comments on that type of advertising than I do anything else. You’ll also see us on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, and we’ll use another local company, Clearspring, and its widget technology to help us make, share and track content. It’s all part of a Web 2.0 approach.
Personally, I’m now on Facebookand my blog, Ted’s Take has become increasingly popular with fans around the world. These are great avenues for self expression, and I’ve found them extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. So thanks for your readership.
At the Caps, we’ve also aligned ourselves with a new ad agency, HZDG, and they have developed some interesting, eye-catching print and TV elements to go along with our new tagline: Caps Hockey. The Cool Alternative. You may have already seen the TV ads during preseason games or on Comcast SportsNet.
In partnership with George Washington University’s graduate sports marketing class, we have created a Student Rush program. The students will be divided into six groups, we’ll give them a budget and they will devise and execute a marketing plan directed at local college students. This program allows students to purchase preferred seats in the lower bowl for $25 and the best available mezzanine seats for $10 at the box office the night of the game.
As you may have noticed, the NHL has migrated team websites to a common platform, so you’ll notice some changes at WashigntonCaps.com. I was part of the committee that made many of these recommendations, and we’ve made tremendous strides in the past few months. This was huge undertaking, but it will pay dividends for clubs moving forward. One of the newest elements that has been rolled out is a new video player for CapsTV, which will provide a much better user experience.
But if you really want to see and hear us, I would suggest coming out to practice one day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and see the speed, size and skill of our players up close. Or perhaps attend one of our community relations initiatives. I’m amazed at the generosity of our players – not only with their money, but also with their time. They really have made an extra effort to reach out to fans and sponsors. I’ve witnessed their interaction with adults and kids during training camp, heard them on the phone with potential plan holders and seen them interact with sponsors. Earlier this week we held our annual charity golf tournament, which has raised well more than $1 million throughout the years, and its enjoyable to see our players in another setting. It makes me proud that we have such good citizens on our team. So I encourage you to come to practice or attend one of our community events; they both are great avenues to get to know our players.
Red, white and blue
I’m so pleased with how our new jerseys and marks have been received – by fans and players. Many people cautioned me that this sort of change usually generates more negative comments than positive ones, as fans need time to adjust and absorb the new look. But my inbox has been filled with compliments. The fans wanted this change, and I’m glad we are able to give them a look they have embraced and are proud to wear.
Aramark has upgraded their merchandise stands at Verizon Center and has all sorts of new merchandise in stock. As you might imagine, with all the teams moving to the new Rbk EDGE Uniform System, the jersey demand is high. You are able to purchase blank jerseys at Verizon Center and Kettler Capitals Iceplex and have them customized at those locations. Reebok, however, won’t be providing player customized jerseys to retail outlets until next month. We also are going to launch a community relations program entitled Courage Caps. The sale of these hats will benefit CureSearch, a national organization with local headquarters. CureSearch brings together the National Childhood Cancer Foundation and Children’s Oncology Group to search for a cure for childhood cancer. The hats will be sold at Verizon Center, online and at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and 100% of the sale price will be donated to CureSearch.