D.C., Hockey Town

By now you've no doubt read GDub's defense of Washington as a hockey town (even though many of those local hockey fans don't necessarily root, root, root for the home team), buried in his take on the McKeon/Leonsis contraction "debate." I wanted to discuss one point Greg makes, as well as a comment to the post.

Greg posits that "There are more hockey fans in D.C. than there are Capitals fans." What he means here (I think) is that there are more non-Caps hockey fans than Caps fans here in D.C. (a more literal reading of his sentence makes a far too obvious point - of course there are more hockey fans in D.C. than there are Capitals fans, as the latter group is a subset of the former), which, on the surface, sounds believable - Washington is a city full of transplants and temporary residents. I actually shock people when I tell them I was born in the District after their inevitable "Where are you from?" follow-up, "I mean 'Where are you from originally?'"

I have my doubts, however, as to just how accurate a statement Puck Daddy's assertion is. Assuming that the metric for measuring the number of non-Caps hockey fans in D.C. is the number of fans who support visiting teams at the Verizon Center (I'm not sure how else one would attempt to quantify this... maybe circling the Beltway looking at bumper stickers or anecdotal evidence of "all the guys on my adult league team" being non-Caps fans?), it sounds plausible that there are more of "them" than "us."

But look at it this way - if there is an average of 4,000 "fans" in D.C. who support each of the NHL's other 29 clubs, and each of those fans comes out to see their team when they're in town, they're going to be pretty noticeable at the VC for those one or two games per year (or every three years, as the case has been). If there are 150,000 similarly devoted Caps fans in D.C. who come out to one or two games per year, well, you've got the worst attendance on the planet. Point being, it's considerably easier to be noticed as a fan once or twice a year - because everyone else who supports your team comes out of the woodwork for those same games - than to show your colors on 41 nights during the season. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd be willing to bet that over the past couple of years, most D.C.-area residents who would call themselves Penguins fans have been to most of the Caps/Pens games at the Verizon Center. I'd also be willing to bet that over the past couple of years, most D.C.-area resident who would call themselves Caps fans have not been to most of the Caps games at the Verizon Center.

Of course there are plenty of Rangers, Flyers, Sabres and Pens fans in D.C., but their numbers are easily over-estimated by the fact that they only come out en masse (in admittedly huge masses) a few times a year, not to mention that many of the Pens and Flyers fans you do see at the VC aren't D.C.-area residents at all, but rather visitors to our lovely city for the game.

I'm sure there are Minnesota Wild fans in Washington. Phoenix Coyotes fans, too. And a fair share of "I root for the Caps, but I'm a Bruins fan first and foremost" types. But there's simply no way that there are more non-Caps hockey fans than Caps fans in D.C. No chance. At all.

The second point I wanted to address is something from the comments to Greg's post. Here's the comment:
The key statistic is this: Capitals games attendance %capacity at home 82.9%. Capitals games attendance %capacity on the road 88.2% [actually, it was 93.6%]. 5.3% [actually, that's a 10.7% difference now] more peopole [actually, it's spelled "people"] show up to road games to see Ovie than show up in his own damn town. That is the problem Mr. Leonsis.
Putting aside the fact that the numbers cited have nothing to do with paid attendance (those are reported attendance numbers, which includes freebies, something the Caps have cut way back on over the past few years as it really only serves to devalue the product), that the Caps' actual paid attendance last season was much higher than 24th in the League, and that the team's attendance increased dramatically as the team showed its games were worth attending, simple logic would tell us that an attraction (namely Alex Ovechkin) that is available as infrequently as once every three years will be in higher demand than that same attraction offered 123 times over that same span. When the Caps visited Nashville last March, it was the first time Ovie played in Music City in his career. By contrast, he had already played 120 regular season games at Verizon Center. Add to that the fact that opposing teams build ticket packages around Ovechkin and papers announce his pending visits months in advance (yes, papers plural), and is it really surprising that the Caps are a relatively strong draw on the road?

Other points in GDub's piece are worthy of discussion ("The fiscal ramifications in the argument against contraction appear to make the argument for expansion."... perhaps, though the last expansion was supported by an influx of talent from across the pond which helped to maintain the product's quality, and a future expansion would obviously not be; "The bandwagon nature of the D.C. fan"... I'd say that, with few exceptions, this is the nature of most sports "fans"), and on the whole it's a nice piece. I'm just not buying Washington as a non-denominational hockey town. The non-Caps fans help the puck-friendly atmosphere, but they're not carrying the water. Not by a longshot.

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