Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that's what Greg's first suggestion means. I think, rather, that he means there's a pool of hockey fans, only part of which is composed by Caps fans. This of course is the case everywhere, but Greg has a point that many Washingtonians are not from the area and only stay in the region for a few years before moving on. Thus there are many who maybe like hockey in the abstract, or root for other teams, who have not made a connection with the Caps. My two cents.

JP said...

Well, I couldn't agree more if that's his point... but if that's his point, it's an obvious one (though most likely exaggerated in D.C.).

It seems to me he's saying that Caps fans make up a relatively small subset of D.C.-area hockey fans, which I'm not sure I necessarily believe, for the reasons I noted.

Stokley Rose said...

I also read it as simply not all of the hockey fans in Caps Country are Caps fans. Obviously this is true anywhere but I do think DC is one of those special exceptions because so many people that live here are from other places and bring their allegiances with them. I mean, how many people actually move TO Pittsburgh or Buffalo for example? The only thing I didn't buy was the bandwagon aspect of DC over anywhere else.

Hooks Orpik said...

"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."

What kind of fans would those be that can't drag themselves down to the rink when they have 41 chances a year?

No doubt DC has some very good hockey fans (look at the Caps blogosphere) and not to speak for the Wysh but I think his point was that when it comes to a base of rowdy, supportive fans in this area the Buffalo, Detroit, Toronto, Pittsburgh combined contingent probably outnumbers, or at least gets a little more fired up about the occasion of a game in DC. Which may be totally natural too.

Either way those days might be over or at least with the Caps base more inspired and rallied with recent developments on the ice.

JP said...

@ Hooks: My point is that most people can only go to so many hockey games a year, given the price of the games and everything else these days. These people don't necessarily pick the Pens games to go to - they select a Friday night that they can get a babysitter. They don't go to all the Sabres games, they'll go to a Sens game when their buddies are going.

It's very easy to show up and be loud in a big group two times a year. It's not as easy to do so 41 times a year, and the result is that opposing fan bases seem bigger and more vocal. Maybe I'm not articulating my point well enough.

But I don't think anyone doubts that the local fan base can be vocal supporters of the home team after last Spring, so we'll see where it goes from here.

Anonymous said...

Well said JP. As you point out, its obvious that not all hockey fans are Capitals fans. I took Wysh's comments literally and like you said, one is a subset of the other so naturally the number of "hockey fans" will exceed the number of "Capitals fans".

If his point was that there are more NON caps fans than caps fans, then I too will disagree. DC's transient nature may mean there are more fans of other teams as a percentage than in many cities, but the number of Caps fans is greatly under appreciated.

To Hook's point, the fact that the arena is downtown keeps a LOT of Caps fans away. I'm 26 so I love hopping on the Metro and catching a game even if it ends up taking me about an hour each way from where I live. I love having places to eat and drink and making a night of it with my friends and/or girlfriend.
This doesn't necessarily appeal to your average 40 year old father of two.

DC's horrible Traffic is also a huge issue. Parents have to fight rush hour traffic to get home from work, barely makes the game on time, then the kids home late on a school night. This eliminates many weeknight games as being viable options for the local born and bred caps fans. Like JP said, you're less likely to notice this family of Caps fans at the two games they go to each season than a pack of obnoxious blacked out Philly fans.

I know a lot of Maryland suburb fans in the Annapolis area who go to far fewer games than they used to when the Cap Center was right off the beltway.

I work from home 3 days a week so traffic isn't an issue for me thankfully, but years down the road if I become a father, its hard to see me making a 2 hour round trip 20-41 times a season.

Anonymous said...

Sombrero Guy,

I know that having the arena downtown is a complaint for a lot of people, but no matter where you put it there's going to be complaining. Growing up in the city, I only made it to a couple games a year when the team played in Landover because it was so horrible to try to get there in rush hour traffic, and then I wouldn't get home before 11 or midnight. And you can bet that all the people who lived in Virginia had an even worse time of it.

But where would you put the arena so that it's accessible to everyone? Dulles? Arlington? Bethesda? Rockville? Silver Spring? Germantown? Greenbelt? Each has its benefits, for a limited number of people, but you're also going to have just as many people who won't go because of where it is, logistics of getting there/home. I think that right smack in the middle of town, right on all five Metro lines has got to be as close to the best place to be. (Even if it means people with children can't go to mid-week games.)

Anonymous said...

Greg should write a similar article about the devils. Was anyone cheering for them when they played the Rangers in the playoffs? The Devils fan is akin to snuffalufagus.

Caps fans started returning once they knew Ovie was staying in town. The change in attendance was very noticable post-deal.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sombrero Guy on the VC's location. I'd like to get to more games than I do but living in Loudoun County makes getting downtown difficult with the exception of weekend games. Traffic is horrendous during the week and weekends are consumed with kids travel hockey. But I get to as many as I can and never missed ONE game on t.v. last year. We'll definitely see the number of Caps fans increase based on their talent and of course, OV. Maybe it's just that the other fans are more obnoxious which makes them more visible. That's been my experience with some of these visiting teams, especially the Sabres & Flyers fans...

Rorschach said...

I meet so many Caps fans who don't follow the NHL at all outside of the Caps. The thought that there are droves Pens and Flyers fans begging the bartender to turn on the Center Ice package is absurd.

Just from attending sporting events in the area, at Wizards games it's incredibly common to hear people discussing what's going on around the league. I've been to at least 250 Caps games in the last 20 years and I've never overheard a conversation about what's going on around the league unless it's something along the lines of "Mario sucks" or "Crosby sucks."

Anonymous said...

TG - You're absolutely right, no matter where it is, you'll have some one complain. And like I said, I love the Verizon Center and the area around it, especially Rocket Bar

Putting the Verizon Center downtown on a metro line makes it easier to get to for lots of people to make it down, and brings it closer to the NOVA suburbs. It just made it more difficult to MD suburb fans who may have had more of a history of going to games. Its been what, 10 years since the move? I agree with Mikeeagleshealthyscratch that the fans were relieved when Ovechkin signed the long term deal and that helped bring some ans back as well.

Anonymous said...

Yes there are Wild fans in DC and I'm one of them. Wild fan first, Caps fan second, hockey fan third. I've actually spent more money on the Caps than the Wild and I used to live right by the Xcel Center. It is so much easier to get tickets here. It's great.

What isn't great is that most of the people I've talked to out here don't even know that there is a DC team. Hardly anyone likes hockey here.