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How to Keep Out Pittsburgh Fans


(By Len Redkoles - Getty)


Why weren't there an excessive number of Pittsburgh fans in the building for Game 1? I've heard a few explanations. My favorite comes from the Caps message board, and goes something like this: "They were too busy filing out of FedEx Field."

That's brilliant, because it speaks to the reason we were all so busy scanning the crowd on Sunday. Sure, there's the history between these two franchises, but there was also last Nov. 3, when Terrible Towels in FedEx became one of the lasting images of the Redskins season. Then there was April 7, when Stan Kasten's Appeal to Phillies Phans became one of the early storylines of this Nats season.

Philly and Pittsburgh offer two of the biggest potential invading fan armies. This could have been Part III of D.C.'s Trilogy of Shame. And yet "Pittsburgh Fans Spoil Red-Out" will not be a storyline this week.

"Yeah, we have a database now and we can see someone's ticket-buying [history], and the way around it is to buy season tickets or become a Caps fan," Ted Leonsis said during an XM interview this morning. "And so I don't feel any shame in this. I think I'm doing exactly the right thing, and I don't feel I need to apologize. There's other franchises and other teams that want to sell tickets, and really don't care who they sell it to. But frankly, I do, and I think I'm doing the right thing the right way. And it shows: the building was all red. If there were 500 Penguins fans in the building, I think that would be a lot."

As to the mechanics, they're not particularly complicated. The team's 12,000 or so season-ticket holders get first crack at their specific seats. The team is then left with about 2,000 individual game tickets, which--instead of offering to the general public--the franchise offers up pre-sale to season-ticket holders on a password-protected basis.

Of course, in this day and age, the password will instantly meander its way through the Internet--the Game 1 password was posted on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Pens blog--and so the franchise also instituted geo-mapping technology for the entirety of this playoff run, with all buyers required to have a D.C.-area zip code on their credit card. Why?

"We decided to take extra measures and it's actually worked out to our advantage," Jim Van Stone, the team's vice president of ticket sales, told me. "We've done [the geo-mapping] from time to time through the years. This time, we ended up doing it at the start. We just want to make sure we continue to rock the red and give our fans locally the first chance to buy tickets. In today's day and age, any password is going to get to anyone that wants to search and find it. This is just another assurance to make sure we protect the home ice, that people outside the market don't buy tickets."

(This is a better strategy than the one sent me by a Caps fan, who bragged about putting up ads for non-existent tickets on the Web, and setting up meetings with Pens fans who promised to buy the tickets. That strikes me as borderline illegal.)

Anyhow, the comprehensive geo-mapping may be new, but the general philosophy is not. The last time these teams met in the postseason, eight years ago, Leonsis bought 1,000 un-sold club seats from Abe Pollin and sold the tickets himself on the Caps Web site, blocking buyers with 412 area codes.

And while not too many fans buy playoff tickets directly from the team, ticket sellers are still on the lookout. The Post-Gazette reported on the case of Joe Ignatius, a D.C.-area resident and Pens fan who called the Caps to try to take advantage of a special playoff offer and was denied. Turns out the Caps had previously tried to sell him season tickets and he had indicated he only wanted to see Pittsburgh games. "Joe says that he's just a Penguins fan and won't come to any other games," read the note in his account from 2007. Request denied.

Hey, at least Joe can enjoy the Steelers visit to FedEx next preseason.

"I'm unabashed, and I have no shame at all," Leonsis said in the radio interview this morning. "It's in our best interest to fill the building with people who are wearing red and are loyal to our team. And so I'm unabashed in that."

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 4, 2009; 6:21 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Comments

Stan Kasten, please take note.

Posted by: DangerNat | May 4, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

That is FRICKIN AWESOME. Well done Mr. Leonsis. Burn in he'll Bastard Snyder.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 4, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Things that are awesome:

This.

Posted by: Colm1 | May 4, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Best owner in town. No coincidence that he's got the best product.

Posted by: TheFunBunch | May 4, 2009 9:59 PM | Report abuse

LEONSIS. IS. THE. MAN.

Get lost Snyder.

Posted by: TheSuperhoo | May 4, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Damn...my Yiddish is weak, but I'm pretty sure that's a mitzvah.

Posted by: EdTheRed | May 4, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I love it. Keep doing what you're doing, Ted. Best owner in the business.

Snyder could care less about what fans show up to his games, as long as they buy stuff.

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | May 4, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Ted Leonsis is my hero.

Posted by: thusler | May 4, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

I love this as a Cpas fan and as someone who has endured years of Penguins fans invading our home and, quite frankly, embarrassing the leagues of long-time Caps followers. But, and I say this without fact, I really question the legality of any of this. Restraint of free trade? I am sure Leonsis' legal team has weighed this out but it seems to be walking a fine line. To me, the greatest defense of our home is to keep winning and to continue spreading the word about the greatest team for the greatest game and to never have to worry about posers and penguins.

Posted by: eyechip | May 4, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

lets face it, if S***tburg and Phility wasn't such a dump, all those bamas wouldn't move down here. All those ugly and overweight bamas are sickning...

Posted by: rdscnz | May 4, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

Ted! Oh Ted! Please buy a big ol' hunk of DC United. We need someone like you in the mix. I know you love soccer Ted. Rock the Red. Maybe someday soon Rock the Black and Red!
Go Caps!
Vamos United!

Posted by: DadRyan | May 4, 2009 11:21 PM | Report abuse

A coworker was upset he was blocked out of getting tickets and told me they dont have to resort to these measures in Pittsburgh. Then I informed him that nobody from outside of Pittsburgh ever goes to Pittsburgh. Truth hurts

Posted by: makplan20002 | May 4, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

When does he plan on purchasing the Redskins?

Posted by: bizzleboy | May 4, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

What doesn't work is the fact that the row behind us in section 420 is owned by a ticket broker, for the last two games we have had to suffer with obnoxious Pens fans. We have got to get the ticket brokers out of the Verizon Center.

Posted by: jklizas | May 5, 2009 2:06 AM | Report abuse

borderline illegal? try actual fraud. I'll take Leonsis' method.

Posted by: ouij | May 5, 2009 3:02 AM | Report abuse

THANK YOU, TED LEONSIS. YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT THE FANS BY GIVING THEM THE PRIORITY TO BUY TICKETS FOR THE GAMES. PROUD TO BE A CAPS FAN. LET'S GO CAPS!!!

Posted by: capsfan2007 | May 5, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse


As someone who likes going to see games in other stadiums, I don't like it.

Posted by: metatext | May 5, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

"But, and I say this without fact, I really question the legality of any of this. Restraint of free trade?"

It's his building, he can sell the tickets to whomever he wants. It's not a legal issue in the slightest.

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 5, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Best owner in sports. Thank you, Uncle Teddy!

Posted by: Fletch_F_Fletch | May 5, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I think the Capitals take -great- care of their fans--and vice versa! May it ever be thus.

Posted by: redlineblue | May 5, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Ted is the man!

By the way Ted, could you please purchase United and the Redskins because both teams are desperately in need of your help (I'm not a Nats fan so I didn't include them).

Posted by: croftonpost | May 5, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Someone explain to me how this is restraint of trade? Or even how you think it might be. Because I'm not seeing it.

Posted by: DCCenturion | May 5, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

If anyone else was near me in 426 last night, they know Ted's strategy didn't exactly work 100%. The back 4 rows had more Pittsburgh fans than Washington fans.

I was stunned there were no fights there last night. It looked ugly early.

Course, some of them weren't "real" fans either. One girl in front of me wearing a Penguins t-shirt cheered like mad on Ovie's two 3rd-period goals.

Another didn't know what Primanti Brothers was. You have no right wearing anything Pittsburgh if you can't answer that question.

My guess is that most of the Penguins "fans" in 426 last night couldn't find Pittsburgh on a map.

Posted by: writered21 | May 5, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Leonsis, you're nothin' but a slumdog millionare whose bush-league team plays in the "ghetto on the Green Line." You typify the shrinking violet mentality of a Caps fan, running scared from enemy jerseys. So you're a perfect fit for the D.C. second-rate, also-ran sports scene. Just like that red sweater you're wearing, Santa Claus!

Posted by: Jumpy66 | May 5, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Can someone please remind me the name of the DC NFL Franchise? I seem to forget . . .

Thank you Ted!!

Posted by: VeloStrummer | May 5, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

God Bless Leonsis. Hands down the best owner in Washington's modern era. No other team owner in this area has been better in managing and marketing the team, LETTING THE GM TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS IN THE PERSONNEL DEPT. (ahem, listen up Snyder), and giving a damn about the fans.

Leonsis knows that the ticket to a healthy revenue stream is a great team with a revved up fan base.

Praying for a CAPS SWEEP!!!

Posted by: hwandon | May 5, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Well, there are some bugs in the system. Section 430, row C on Saturday? Four Pens fans. Same location last night? Two Pens fans next to me. These tix were sold by season ticket holders. As long as the Pens fans behave, I can live with it. If they act up, I complain to the season ticket holders. They have to sit next to me for the regular season so they do pay attention.

Posted by: pirate1 | May 5, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

did ted complain for all the years when the pens-caps games was one of the few on the schedule that brought the arena to near-capacity? i understand the caps are the only respectable team in this city right now, but seriously, does everyone NOT realize this is just more bandwagon garbage? my cousin is a die-hard who's had caps tickets for about a decade, and she was complaining to me the other night about the fans this season - and she didn't mean rangers or pens fans.

Posted by: natepf | May 5, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I applaud this. The people that are actually supporters of the team getting first and last shot at them. Sounds very logical. If the building is going to sell out regardless it should go to those that support the team as a reward for their support.

As for questions about the legality of this method. The arena is not a public place. They are not discriminating by age, race, gender, or anything similar to that. It a Penguins fan wants to see the game get season tickets or go to Pittsburgh.

There is also something to be said for supported you local community by supporting your local team as well. A lot of us aren't from Washington, but we are there now.

Posted by: lornemyoung | May 5, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

A second thing to gripe about. Caps fans labeling newer fans bandwagon fans infuriates me. We've had season tickets for two years now. I suppose I must apologize profusely to folks that have lived in this area longer than us or have had the financial ability for longer than us to hold season tickets. Seriously, lets not cause divisions between fans of the same team. That's silly.

The less than a handful of Pens fans in front of us in 423 seemed decent as well, but we couldn't hear them at all.

Posted by: lornemyoung | May 5, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

i think the issue with some newer fans is a. boorish behavior, and b. ignorance of the game of hockey. certainly not everyone who just acquired tickets is grouped in there.

and it remains ridiculous that sales are restricted. someone made a snide comment above in response to the statement that mellon arena doens't have to restrict ticket sales geographically because pittsburgh is awful. well, the wachovia center and msg don't restrict sales either, and there's plenty of penguins fans living in (or easily able to travel to) philly and nyc.

Posted by: natepf | May 5, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

What Ted has created is the envy of the NHL. In a transient city like DC, one might consider it a miracle that the Caps can pack the house night after night with its own fans. It's something that native Washingtonians just have to deal with. But watch the Ducks play the Wings at the Joe. They look freakin' bored. Watching the games on TV against the Rangers at MSG, it's a stark, underlit, outdated arena. These other arenas have mistique, but they have no personality, and what Mr. Leonsis has done is create a great product, in a great place to watch it. Why would any opposing fan travel to Pittsburgh to watch a game in a town with the oldest arena in the league, and nothing much else to offer? Pittsburgh had to kiss it's former franchise player's ass to take the team in lieu of money in an effort to even keep the team from skipping town. That's how much the Pens mean to Pittsburgh.

By NOT selling to opposing fans, the Capitals are risking a lot, but also doing what every other owner in the league wishes they could do. And the fact that there was a mere smattering of yellow or pansy-ass blue pens jerseys in games 1 & 2 in a packed red house is a testament of the success of that willingness to take such a risk.

Posted by: Rainier1 | May 5, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Pittsburgh did the same thing last season in the playoffs by not selling to Detroit fans. How come we never hear about that? Ted is doing the right thing and 99% of Caps fans appreciate it. As do the Caps players, I'm sure.

Posted by: poguesmahone | May 5, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

No system will ever be foolproof but this is pretty smart, especially in an area like DC where you get so many transplants (the number of people moving to Pittsburgh...microscopic). You can't control ticket brokers and STH from selling to other fans (unless demand is at a point where you can go that route). Ultimately, it's quite legal, and smart.

Of course, Washington never had to file bankruptcy or welched on a deal to sell the team to Jim Balsillie back in the fall of 2005 (seeing the club move to Hamilton, Ontario), so what does he know?

Posted by: jcurrin | May 5, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I will also say that the fact that the Caps have to restrict ticket sales means that opposing fans ARE willing to travel to see their team. It does say something about those fans (yes...props to you), but I think it says more about the city in general. People just like to to come to DC...and we just don't like to go to other cities. I'm fine with that.

Posted by: Rainier1 | May 5, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

What Ted is doing is not restraint of trade, and it probably is not illegal in other respects as well. But it is awful public relations for the NHL as a whole, no matter how much D.C.-based Caps fans like it.

I would hope that people who are not permitted to buy tickets because they are not Caps fans will complain loudly to the league. Perhaps Bettman won't do anything, but, then again, we won't know until it is attempted.

If the Flyers played the same dirty trick, I'd be shut out of seeing the Caps at Wachovia Center.

Posted by: phillyreader | May 5, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

By the way, Pissburgh fans can get tickets by going to ticket brokers. So stop whining.

Posted by: poguesmahone | May 5, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I know this is not a very popular thing to say in this town, but not all Skins fans hate Dan Snyder. I, for one, admire the guy and am grateful to him for a lot that he's done.

I will always be appreciative of the man for bringing back Joe Gibbs. And I'll never forget the way he handled the Sean Taylor tragedy under difficult circumstances, or the way he has helped players and coaches alike in emergency situations, providing access to his private jet to reach loved ones, etc. Or going out of his way to help Marty Schottenheimer to find the right doctor long after he was let go as coach. That he quietly donated a million dollars to the 9/11 victims and didn't seek the publicity so many other big donors do. The guy grew up without money, without a t.v. in his house, rooting for the Redskins by going to the t.v. story to see watch his team play.

Says the Washingtonian's Harry Jaffe:

"I have covered plenty of spoiled, greedy, power-hungry rich guys in my 30 years as a reporter. Snyder is not even close. I found him competitive, playful, and shockingly normal."

Look, the guy wants to win as badly as any owner in pro sports. He hasn't yet produced the year in, year out, success that we expect from our Redskins. But not for a lack of trying. Of course I'd like a real GM and would prefer if he didn't get involved in personnel decisions. But, unlike so many Skins fans, I don't hate the man for it.

This is a must read if you have an opinion, good or bad, on Dan Snyder:

http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/sports/1679.html

Posted by: Barno1 | May 5, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I would hope that people who are not permitted to buy tickets because they are not Caps fans will complain loudly to the league. Perhaps Bettman won't do anything, but, then again, we won't know until it is attempted.
If the Flyers played the same dirty trick, I'd be shut out of seeing the Caps at Wachovia Center.
Posted by: phillyreader | May 5, 2009 12:25 PM |

I'd move back if I were you. Sucks being in philthy.

Posted by: Rocc00 | May 5, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Rocc00, Philly turns out (much to my surprise) to be a really nice place to live. There is more to do here than in D.C., there is a lot more culture, and most things are way cheaper. I can even buy the Post every day. The only advantages that D.C. has are the free museums, the folklife festival, and the much nicer subway.

Posted by: phillyreader | May 5, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

phillyreader

I will actually agree with you that Philly isn't that bad. Better, that's a stretch, but not bad. The biggest draw back is that people from Philly live in Philly, and Philly fans are enough of a reason for me never to want to live there.

ps Jumpy666- Trying to make fun of Ted by calling him Santa- ummm that's not an insult! Thats a great guy who gives presents to nice people i.e. not you. (Didn't Philly fans boo Santa at one time? My point exactly.)

Posted by: mrszilla | May 5, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Personally...I think the jokes on us, Caps fans. The fact that there has to be restrictions so that only Washington area "Caps fans" get tickets is sort of telling.

If the "product" really is as good as the managment thinks it is (and I for one, believe it is), then they shouldn't have to fix sales just to get people with red jerseys in the place. How many consecutive sellouts has Pittsburgh had now? The team is good. People want to see them (or...people want to see their "home" team play them).

I guess my point is, is that if the product is really that good (which it is), we wouldn't need all these shenanigans. If Mario was doing this, you'd be sure that Caps fans (as well as most of the NHL) would be scratching their heads.

Posted by: cochenob | May 5, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Cochenob,
The games are "sold out" already in that every season ticket made available this year has been sold. The additional sales are those left (something like 2000 seats). Left to a free and open market, chances are that most of those seats would be bought by Capitals fans, and virtually ALL would be bought by people around DC. The problem lies in the fact that DC is home to so many displaced people that even those with a DC zipcode/area code are often only DC fans when "their" team is not in town. Case in point, my seats are next to a guy who also is a STH but is a HUGE rangers fan. The first series he was a die hard blue shirt. Now he's back in red. That is the problem with DC. Many of those Philly, Pittsburgh, NY, Detroit fans we see at VC live in DC. Ted is doing all he can to make sure THEY stay away for the big games...and for that he has to be commended - he knows his market. Any Pens fan who makes the trip down for these games got their ticket from a friend or broker, and there is nothing Ted can do about that.

Posted by: Rainier1 | May 5, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Once again, that presupposes a significant number of tickets are still available to the public after the pre-sale. We don't know numbers, but I highly doubt that there are thousands. There could be fewer than one-hundred available.
Just because you come across a restriction, doesn't mean that restriction is needed, or necessary.

Posted by: Grooven | May 5, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Rainier-

You said, "The problem lies in the fact that DC is home to so many displaced people that even those with a DC zipcode/area code are often only DC fans when "their" team is not in town."

We differ here. This isn't a "problem". You make it sound like he's only a Cap fan only when it's "convenient". I doubt that he'd pay the money to be a STH just to see the Rangers play at Verizon twice a year.

Perhaps what irks me about all this is that there just aren't a lot of people like myself...who have a "home" team...but regularly attend their new "home" team games...as opposed to those who just turn out when the old "home" team comes to town. There's just something about being "profiled" that would make me feel under-appreciated.

That said, we agree that Ted "knows his market" as you say. Just seems like there'd be a better way. The whole thing to me just makes the management look like...well...you know.

Posted by: cochenob | May 5, 2009 10:40 PM | Report abuse

I said good job Mr. Leonsis! I agree with this 100%. I'm actually from Pittsburgh by birth and family origin and will be a Steelers fan to the day I die, but I love the Caps! This is the best run franchise in the DC area bar none, no doubt about it!

Posted by: jeffcoud1 | May 5, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a Caps fan or a Pens fan but I am a hockey fan. It seems to me that if this were such a great hockey town with such a "passionate" fanbase you wouldn't need to place restrictions on ticket sales. We'll see if they have any restrictions in 2-3 years when the team is crummy again and there's 8,0000 fans a game in the arena. I bet you then they will go crawling back to the same fans they are shutting out now to BEG them to buy tickets.

Posted by: tbone41 | May 6, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I lived in NOVA from 1986-2003 and still have lots of friends there. Reading this article just makes me sad. I can’t believe the Caps still have to resort to this stuff. I knew they did this in the 90s but I thought things had changed. Its one thing to give first dibs to season ticket holders and folks who have bought tickets during the year but to completely block the opponent’s fans because you don’t have enough support from you own fans is just sad, childish, and embarrassing.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this but what really saddens me is that reminds me of the #1 problem with the DC area. As lovely as DC is, everyone is from somewhere else and few folks seem to have a real connection to the city. DC as a city doesn’t have an identity like Philly, NYC, Boston, and even Pittsburgh. I know it's changing and things are getting better, especially with more young folks choosing to settle there but when a market as large as DC to has to fight off fans from a market less then half its size it makes me think the connection between DC and it’s residents is still pretty weak.

It’s just sad DC, it’s just plan sad.

Posted by: dbme | May 6, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Unbelievable.

You call yourselves major leaguers? Leonsis
is a total backwater bush leaguer.

All those cutesy comments about Pgh and
Philly do little to flatter you, by the way.

As hockey towns go, D.C. stand for Dead
City.

Pathetic.

Posted by: paulnova70 | May 9, 2009 1:58 AM | Report abuse

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