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A Capital Success: How Did Leonsis Do It?

Last year around this time, I foolishly wrote that a Game 7 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a climax that summons everything a fan has to give and brings strangers together in a frenzy of hope, desire and expectation. Well, here it is again.

The Washington Capitals, in case you haven't noticed, have gone from just another lousy D.C. sports team with thin, fickle, and emotionally uninvested crowds to the talk of the town. You don't have to look back too many years to find all manner of news stories and blog items speculating that Washington's hockey team would be a natural candidate for contraction.

Caps owner Ted Leonsis still has 30 unchecked items on the 101-item To Do list he made for himself after he survived a plane crash landing in 1983 (still not done: "Support someone who makes a great breakthrough in science or art" and "Get a hole-in-one," among others.) But he's accomplished most of the big ones, including "Own a sports franchise" and "Give $1 million to Georgetown University." Leonsis is still pushing for #41: "Win a world championship." But there's one item that's not on the list that he's already taken care of against pretty steep odds:

Leonsis has turned a notoriously unenthusiastic hockey town into one that's winning serious respect throughout the sport and beyond. Thanks to their Russian all-stars, the Caps have become the darling of Russia's rabid hockey fans. Thanks to the owner's relentless marketing, a wholesale remake of the franchise's colors and logos, and a hyperspiking of the intensity of the fan experience at the Abe Pollin Center, even people who think icing is the part of the cake that's never as good as it looks are finding themselves donning red and rocking the heart of Chinatown.

The Caps' attendance this year was 13th in a league of 30 teams, but it was actually even better than that--the team filled its home arena to 97 percent of capacity over the course of the regular season, putting the Caps firmly in the upper echelon of the NHL. That's a huge change in a very short amount of time--it's up from 83 percent full last season and well less than that in previous years.

Of course, having a great team that makes it deep into the playoffs is an important part of putting fannies in the seats. But this doesn't look like a mere curiosity crowd; these are people who are investing in jerseys, learning the players, absorbing some of hockey's distinctive culture.

Are there reasons for the Caps' success that go beyond their winning play? Sure, there are factors that helped Leonsis--especially these two: The blossoming of the Seventh Street restaurant, bar and retail scene in the latter years of the economic boom, along with the sense of safety and excitement that made the arena neighborhood far more attractive; and the relative decline of the Redskins and the disenchantment that has swept through what had been the fan base of that totally dominant franchise.

(Sports Illustrated this week declares Dan Snyder to be the third-worst owner in all of football. The magazine says we in this region are lucky enough to have the fifth-worst owner in baseball--the Nationals' Ted Lerner--and the absolute worst baseball team owner on the planet, the Orioles' Peter Angelos. Leonsis and Abe Pollin are fortunate enough not to make SI's lists at all.)

And then there are the moves that Leonsis and his executives made: Putting together a strong team, ratcheting up the marketing, building a game experience that sweeps even the most ignorant casual fans into the action, diving into new media whole hog (a natural for Leonsis, who won his riches at AOL), and making a game with a reputation as a white, northern passion accessible and comfortable for folks of every background. It's amazing how often I hear casual and non-fans talking with a certain wonder about the fact that the Caps had a Jewish player, a black player, even a local player--such moves can seem crass, but if made honestly and on merit, can also bring new crowds under the tent.

So, today's question: Is Caps mania for real, and if so, what made it happen?

By Marc Fisher |  May 13, 2009; 11:28 AM ET  | Category:  Capitals , City life , Sports
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Comments

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I agree with all the things cited in this article, and I think the current interest in the Caps can last -- but I would say you are missing a major piece: Ovechkin. It's not just that the Caps are winning, it's that they have one of the most exciting, dynamic athletes in all of sports -- not just hockey. Major credit to the Caps for drafting him, but part of it was luck too.

Posted by: ralph4100 | May 13, 2009 12:00 PM

I hate to admit it, but its the DC fans. They have no where else to turn but hockey right now, and we're a hot team, so everyone's getting on the bandwagon (which, don't get me wrong, I fully support new fans getting on board with our team.)

But give it a few more years once the skins get hot again or, heaven forbid, the caps cool off a bit, the DC fans will scatter again much like the inhabitants of a Pittsburg apartment once the lights are turned on.

Posted by: nowanna1 | May 13, 2009 12:01 PM

Its real. And it is 95% Ovechkin's doing. Even if we had a winning hockey team here without Ovechkin, there wouldnt be half the excitement. He has shown people the greatest show in pro sports. Even when he leaves 20 years from now, people will still have in the back of their mind the impossible he made possible and will keep showing up hoping to see it again from someone else.

Posted by: makplan20002 | May 13, 2009 12:03 PM

Credit should go to Ted Leonsis for learning from his early mistakes as an owner who tried to build a champion playing fantasy hockey, cleaned house, went through a painful rebuilding when many fans turned on him, and then building a consistent winner with talented young players. Onlike the meddling owner of the Redskins and Orioles, Leonsis knows enough to let a professional hockey GM select the personnel and the coach.

A franchise's strength begins at the top with ownership and Leonsis is the best of the D.C. owners across the board. It seems that the Caps have surpassed the Wizards and Reskins in terms of fan interest with even casual fans now taking interest. Not to mention that we have the two worst baseball franchises in MLB.

Posted by: wizfan89 | May 13, 2009 12:14 PM

it's real, and as long as they are winning they'll stay in the forefront

Posted by: sroessle | May 13, 2009 12:15 PM

The die-hard fans will stay around no matter what, but there is still a contingent of band-wagoners that will probably move on in a year or two or ten. DC is just that way. I have been and will be here for the duration. Thank you Ted! Thank you Ovie! LET'S GO CAPS!!!

Posted by: AmyS1 | May 13, 2009 12:16 PM

So the real question (yes having nothing to do with this particular post) is Did Green get his last stick from the Hall of Fame? And do they need any help escorting that thing into his hands tonight at the Phone Booth?

Posted by: Gozling | May 13, 2009 12:27 PM

Ovechkin is obviously a big part, but I sense Leonsis is a fan-friendly owner, and wants to make the customer feel comfortable and respected.

And while Stephen Strasburg will likely do for the Nationals what Ovechkin did for the Capitals, the Lerners don't trust their fans' intelligence. If they did, they would fire Clint and immediately forever ditch that hated Red Sox anthem "Sweet Caroline" at Nats Park. Unlike Leonsis, they think we're stupid!

Posted by: VPaterno | May 13, 2009 12:27 PM

Gozling, the stick hadn't been sent to the Hall yet. Nate Ewell had it in his office and drove it up to Pittsburgh on Monday! Green didn't play with it. Fans (and apparently even a reporter!) from across the country that own Easton Stealth right-handed models have been sending them to the Caps sicne the story broke. Green said he would try some out a practice today and then make his decision. I think if you go to tarik's blog, there's some more info on it.

Posted by: RedBirdie | May 13, 2009 12:36 PM

The Caps were supported in the past. I was a season-ticket holder before moving to FL in 95. Prior to leaving the Cap Centre, you'd get 15-20 sellouts a year and the Caps would usually make and then lose quickly in the playoffs. But now, whereas the other teams always had the big star, we have the best player. They say that defense wins championships, but maybe Mr. Leonsis understands that offense fills the stadium. Another point not made: most of the Caps stars are young, and the sense that I get is many of the newbie fans are also 18-30 years old. Once these people "adopt" the Caps, they won't let go. I have not stopped rooting for Caps and Orioles since moving and even adopted the Ravens, who came in after I was gone. The Caps lifting the Cup will be a reward for decades of rooting.

Posted by: tominfl1 | May 13, 2009 12:38 PM

The Caps didn't just win the draft lottery when they got the chance to get Ovechkin, they hit the jackpot--but you gotta credit Leonsis and co. for doing everything else just right.

The Caps aren't just a talented team, they are exciting as well, and that's the combination that will make people take notice. Let's just hope they can keep it up!

Posted by: PaintDrinkingPete | May 13, 2009 12:46 PM

Agreed, but the one thing that stands out with this team is that they are fun to watch. We have had very good hockey teams in the past, but wether it be the rule changes, or the style of play, or whatever, they are entertaining AND very good. That combination is what makes the difference.

Posted by: Terps_fan | May 13, 2009 12:48 PM

its definitely real...

i was young but i experienced the whole save the caps thing and the trade with montreal that turned this franchise around back in what '82 or so?

the last i remember when i graduated HS in '88 and left for arizona the caps were huge in washington (not as big as the skins obviously). they were selling out and im guessing averaging 16k plus fans a night in the old cap centre. that was big back then. i cant speak to the '90s cause i was on the other side of the country and no longer able to attend games.

im sure there are a whole lot of those blue collar fans for whom this is very real. just like for me.

dont let the down years after our cup appearnce fool you...all franchises (save maybe for the skins...though snyder is really testing that now) experience decrease fan support when they suck or otherwise under achieve massively. and obviously it picks up when things turn around. its natural.

the best thing now is that not only is this real for all those old school fans from the '70s, '80s and'90s who have been there all along but now we've got a whole new generation and type of fan getting caught up in this very real whirlwind.

i just hope the players realize what us old school fans have been through in the past...all the let downs and heartbreaks... and how badly we want and need this win tonight and what it would mean to us. if they could play with the fire and heart and desire thats inside me right now, there is no way we could lose this game.

for me its far more than the now and moving forward which is awesome. it certainly includes that, but this is also about the redemption for the let downs, heartbreaks and underachievements of last 30 years that the old school fans have endured and for us staying the course and taking this team to heart for all these years.

Unleash the freagin' Furry!!!

Posted by: deadskin | May 13, 2009 12:55 PM

Terrific piece but a huge factor is #8. When a sport's best player is also the most entertaining to watch - that's pure entertainment.

It is convenient to forget now but it was not a 100% sure thing the Caps were even going to draft Ovie - thank goodness management ignored Don Cherry's ilk (finally) and realized that just because a kid wasn't born in Ontario or Alberta doesn't mean he can't be a great hockey player.

Posted by: govtimbo | May 13, 2009 1:04 PM

I live up north and I'm obviously coming to more games now then before. (Flying down and back isn't always easy but a winning team does make it easier.) I'd stay till the last horn if we were in dead last and down by 5 goals. I find it remarkable how things have turned around bandwagon fans or not it's exciting. Even non-caps fans in my area have the buzz and not only talk about our team but make the trip to D.C. as well. Go Caps.

Posted by: cappies | May 13, 2009 1:04 PM

I go back to day one of the franshise. The best thing that happened to it was Ted Leonsis. He's a fan friendly, enthusiastic owner and you gotta love the man. Then they got lucky to get #8. Then he became all he was hyped to be and even more. His enthusiasm rubs off on everyone!!
My family moved to Fla. more than 7 yrs ago but win or lose I follow the Caps daily. My son, who's older now and I go to the games down here to root 'em on. This season, whenever it ends, will give birth to a new wave of fans of both the Caps and hockey. I was truly amazed at the number of middle east looking guys going to the games down here. It's because of #8, NOT the shmendrik running the NHL.

Posted by: bundy44 | May 13, 2009 1:07 PM

I think Leonsis has done a good job of capitalizing on good luck. I doubt very seriously that had the Caps not won the draft lottery and been able to pick Ovechkin the Caps would not be in this position. Without Ovie, this team would still be struggling to make the playoffs... and fill seats.
But, the fact is, Ovechkin is here and the city has embraced him. Go Caps!

Posted by: mdmtnbiker | May 13, 2009 1:18 PM

I was skeptical of the Cap's new fan base until I started actually talking hockey with my friends (who are new fans as well). These are people who never watched hockey and never cared to learn. Yea "everyone loves a winner" but these fans are now as excited as I am about the Caps. They want to learn more about the plays and the players on our team. Some might end up just being fair-weather fans but I would say a good percentage of these new fans will stick around. Basically the messages I'm getting from my friends aren't just "Lets Go Caps!" but rather "Let's Go Caps... and did you see so and so play??". The fact that they care about the plays as much as the scoreboard makes me optimistic. And I'm happy because I finally have the hockey hometown, one that is now known for its game atmosphere. After years of crickets, I'll happily embrace these new puckheads.

Posted by: mrszilla | May 13, 2009 1:19 PM

let me counter the "notoriously unenthusiastic hockey town" description. nobody is going to confuse DC w/ detroit or montreal. however, this town has supported, via attendance, this team in the past. averaging 15-17K prior to the lockout. not many teams outside of the original six sell out every game season after season. the fans are there, not as many as follow the redskins, but they are there. however, when the team tore itself down and the league locked itself out, it was no surprise that it took awhile to rebuild the trust in the fan base. unlike sidney crosby, ovechkin was not touted as the next gretzky when he was drafted. it took a while for folks who dont regularly follow hockey to grasp that this town has a generational althelete who may go down as the most dominant local althete since...walter johnson?

winning helps, and winning the right way really helps. trusting that your owner will do what he says and leaves the sports stuff to the experts (hello lerners and danny) really really helps. win or lose, tonigh will be epic. and the best part, this team is probably two years away from being as good as it can be...

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | May 13, 2009 1:19 PM

All right I am 23 and I have been coming to a few caps games every year since I was kid. When the caps stink I would go to 3-4 games a year. Now that the caps are winning I am a season ticket holder (so like 7 in the regular season and all but 1 of the playoff games). If the caps start to stink again I will give up my season tickets and go to 5 games a year again. (but no lower level not student tickets or eagles nest). In DC we care about our sports teams but we care about winning a lot more.

Posted by: caps512 | May 13, 2009 1:33 PM

It is 90% Ovechkin. The guy is the best player in the world and, not only that, he is a marketer's dream. His playing style, passion, personality, dynamism are exactly what the Caps needed. Even small things like going to Wizards and Redskins games (with Skins jerseys and goofy burgundy and gold old time football helmets, no less) endear him to the local populace. Leonsis has done a good job with the Caps; he's the best owner in town by far. But he should give thanks every day for Ovechkin.

Posted by: poguesmahone | May 13, 2009 1:33 PM

Wizfan89 is right on the money---Mr. Leonsis built a team from scratch. I would also credit GM George McPhee for some major decisions. Coach BB is a brilliant coach who is also instantly likeable and down to earth. Ovie is a huge factor---expresses the joy of hockey in a way no other player can (with the possible exception of David Steckel's face after the game winning goal on Monday night in Game 6!), but the team plays as a TEAM, and there are many great players other than Ovie for fans to cheer on.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | May 13, 2009 1:52 PM

Caps hockey has been able to reach out and touch everyone in this city in a way I never thoguht possible. My street isn't exactly what one would call "typical hockey demographic" and when I moved in a year ago, I quickly got the good-natured label of "the crazy hockey fan." Now everyone on the street is watching hockey, is invested in the game, calling out things like "Did you see that off-sides they refs didn't call?!" They don't just know the Caps, they love it, they are obsessed with it. They've all got favorite players (Steckel was a popular one yesterday!). I never would have guessed last fall that this spring the little girl across the street would be running around in a Fedorov t-shirt. Its nuts.

never mind that people at work are offering pretty much everything short of their first born child or a vital organ for my tickets to tonight's game! People want to see this team play.

Posted by: RedBirdie | May 13, 2009 2:08 PM

As a Caps fan since moving to DC in 1979, this is for real. And the main reason -- let's be real -- isn't so much Ted Leonsis, the marketer, but the product within the product that has defined a previously undefined team of lovable losers named Alexander Ovechkin. Without him, we are just another nameless, faceless franchise with a small corps of loyal fans (see: 1974-2005).

There are supporting actors (Bruce Boudreau, etc.) to be sure, but Alex is the face of the franchise, and the International City has embraced his passion and love for a sport.

One now sees at Caps game what others have seen for decades in Canada's (and even some US) major hockey cities. This is for real. The challenge now is to keep the Caps a perpetually winning franchise with quality players and a hockey culture at all age levels in the greater Washington area. On the latter count, the Caps could learn a lot from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Posted by: Exile_in_Philly | May 13, 2009 2:12 PM

Cmon Mark, the Redskins fans are still extraordinarily rapid and one of the best fan bases in the sport. I don't know where you live, but DC has and always will be a Redskins town first and foremost, no matter how bad they are.

Posted by: sgrahamuva | May 13, 2009 2:21 PM

I too was a Caps fan from Day 1 and worked on the Save the Caps campaign in 1982. We knew even back then that there was a good base of support for the Caps. All they needed was a competitive team. That's why we worked so hard to keep the Caps here. It's a great feeling to see how the city is responding. And with the young talent this team has here and in the minors, I'm confident D.C. will remain a hockey town for years to come.

Posted by: StevefromSacto | May 13, 2009 3:12 PM

I too was a Caps fan from Day 1 and worked on the Save the Caps campaign in 1982. We knew even back then that there was a good base of support for the Caps. All they needed was a competitive team. That's why we worked so hard to keep the Caps here. It's a great feeling to see how the city is responding. And with the young talent this team has here and in the minors, I'm confident D.C. will remain a hockey town for years to come.

Posted by: StevefromSacto | May 13, 2009 3:13 PM

Well, I've been a Caps fan for over 20 years. I've seen the ebb and flow of its fan base. What's usually not talked about in gauging the intensity of the fan base is the NHL's realignment in 1998 that took the Caps out of the Patrick/Atlantic Division. What this did was reduce the number of games against traditional foes like the Pens, Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders, and increased the number of games against Atlanta, Tampa, Florida, and Carolina. With the possible exception of Carolina, our divisional opponents over the last 10 years simply haven't escalated into the kind of transcendent divisional rivalries we used to enjoy prior to the realignment. I'm convinced this has reduced both attendance and interest in hockey in this town for the last 10 years. I, for one, feel moving to the Southeast Division is something akin to being in exile. It's not an accident that Verizon Center has rocked in the postseason the last two years. It's not just because it's the playoffs; it's because of who we've been playing. The Flyers, Rangers, and Pens arouse a level of animous that the Panthers, Lightning, and Thrashers don't.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | May 13, 2009 3:26 PM

A few reasons (from the perspective of one of those Don Cherry Canadian transplants):

1) Washington plays an exciting brand of hockey. Credit the young talent, and Bruce Boudreau. It's not the boring, sterile hockey Washington played pre-lockout. Talk to hockey people, and Washington has morphed from a defence-first, boring team to a fast, skilled team that scores tons of goals. It's entertaining hockey. People may not know the small nuances of the game, but they can see a fast-paced game as opposed to one that puts you to sleep.
2) Ovechkin. In Ovechkin, Washington fans are enjoying the rare treat of seeing the best player in the game at his best. There are boatloads of Canadian kids buying Ovechkin sweaters...this would be unheard of 10 years ago (Canadian kids buying the sweater of a Russian).
3) Homegrown talent. The vast majority of the roster (and the core of the team) was scouted and drafted by Washington (not a bunch of free agent mercenaries for hire). The core of the team is young, skilled, and has developed through the system. This is a blueprint for other teams in the league to follow; I don't know the history of Washington that well, but when is the last time a sport pointed to a Washington franchise as "that's the model we should try to emulate"?

Posted by: jcurrin | May 13, 2009 3:26 PM

Look, I like Leonsis; he's a great owner. Of course, much of the team's financial success is derived not from marketing, but from winning and having the best player on the planet. But, nevertheless, we can all aggree he's a great owner.

But he's also widely-known to be pretty darn arrogant. Case in point of Ted's narcissism:

His "to-do" list. It's baloney. This list was obviously made well after the fact to include various things he's been able to do because of his impressive wealth. But let's not kid ourselves that Ted actually made this list in 1983 and has ticked them off ever since. No, rather, he made this list some years later in an ego-driven way to make a cute story for the media. Yes, no doubt, Ted is a great marketer.

One example of how we know this list is BS: #97. "Go to MTV Awards Show." In 1983, MTV was a fledgling company that -- yep, you guessed it -- didn't yet have an award show. Only a year later did it begin its "Video Music Awards," and only in 1992 did the "Movie Award" show begin.

Maybe Ted should have added another task to his to-do list: "See the future."

Posted by: jackwatson1968 | May 13, 2009 3:38 PM

Jack Watson: Sports ownership is an ego driven business. We can stipulate to that.

Posted by: poguesmahone | May 13, 2009 3:43 PM

Can Leonsis buy the Bullets, the basketball team is total disgrace to the city. Do blame Dan Sydner? He did bring back Joe Gibbs, we did make the playoffs, Zorn is a good coach, it is time for Jason to step or go home.

Posted by: nativeva1 | May 13, 2009 3:44 PM

As a perennial Caps fan (good seasons and the less so...), it's been a world of difference these last couple seasons. Frankly, we don't yet have the success to really establish the fandom long-term, and I fear that if/when we happen to do far less well in the future, which is always a real possibility, that much of that fanbase will grow bored and magically disappear (at least until they get better).

Fair-weather fans are a very common occurrence, but it would make for such a year-in, year-out amazing experience (above and beyond being a die-hard fan of the Capitals) if the fanbase could continue for quite a long time.

It's also nice to see each year moew fellow Washingtonians discovering there's actually more sports out there than football, baseball, and basketball, especially when your beloved teams are perpetually awful. If they become die-hard fans of teams like the Caps and DC United, in sports they maybe never paid attention to before, then I have no problem with them being 'nothing more' than down and out Skins fans or what have you.

Posted by: Comunista | May 13, 2009 3:44 PM

Everybody treats Leonsis like some kind of a genius. In fact he luckily happened to be in the right place at the right time, and like some of the secretaries and mail clerks at AOL, he got rich riding on a fortuitous wave. With the Caps, his luck will run out. Go Penguins!!

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | May 13, 2009 3:50 PM

This is no accident. Ted Leonsis is a Great Man. Everyone should have seen this coming and the same thing will happen to any project he is involved with. So I can't wait till the Wiz are his.. Couldn't happen to a more decent guy! Go Caps!!

Posted by: kevenjones | May 13, 2009 3:52 PM

I worked for Ted Leonsis at Redgate, in Vero Beach, when it was publishing computer magazines and other late-1980s endeavors. In the year I knew him and his girlfriend (now his second wife), he was brilliantly smart, energetic, somewhat impulsive and a little starstruck. He'd made money on his own, and went on to make much, much more at AOL. Not bad for a guy who started out in PR at Harris Corp. of Palm Bay, Fla.
Nobody is perfect and I drifted off to grad school, for more training in my preferred field. But like him or not, Ted is a big guy with a big brain, a big heart and big ideas.
And he did so have a "100-things" list - which he vowed to tick off before death. Not sure if the 100 items have changed, but something was jotted down. I saw it in 1987...

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | May 13, 2009 3:55 PM

I'll quibble with Mr. Leonsis on goal #41, winning a world championship. Don't see many Russian, Czech, or German hockey teams competing for the Stanley Cup. Just saying...

Posted by: Tweaked | May 13, 2009 3:58 PM

agreed with most points but do think the core of the team is very good and very creative: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Semin. We've got hockey tourists from around North America and Europe that come to DC just to watch hockey the way international soccer fans go to Manchester or London to watch football.

Posted by: WritingLight | May 13, 2009 4:12 PM

Tweaked,

Maybe he'll buy a national team that will go on and win the Hockey world championship (which just ended, btw).
Then again, how do we know he was talking about hockey. Isn't the baseball championship in the US called World Series and the winner World Champions?

Posted by: thor2 | May 13, 2009 4:23 PM

Anyone have the rest of this 101 things to do list? I would love to read it :)

Posted by: BuffaloCrunch | May 13, 2009 4:25 PM

Leonsis owns 40% of Washington Sports and Entertainment. WSE owns the Verizon Center and the Wizards. Abe Polin is majority owner. Ted Leonsis has rigth of first refusal to buy the remainder when Abe Polin dies or decides to sell the team.

Ted is an amazing owner. He has been correctly credited with a lot of things here, but one of the little noticed things he did is invest in creating a long term fan base. He did this by investing a lot of time and money in cultivating youth hockey programs in this region. Youngsters that grow up playing hockey along with their families grow up to be hockey fans. Sure Ovechkin helps, but at the same time, I don't think Alex would have had the same success as he has had with the Capitals with many of the other teams.

Posted by: akmzrazor | May 13, 2009 4:31 PM

thor2,

Just pointing out the American conceit of crowning the winner of an American domestic league the "World Champion"

Don't see many non-(North)American baseball teams in the "World Series" either.

Posted by: Tweaked | May 13, 2009 4:35 PM

jackwatson1968:

Dude, He started the list is 1983. He didn't create the whole list in 1983 and it wasn't eteched in stone. If you have ever heard him talk about it in an interview he has said it many times that the list has evolved over the years.

Posted by: akmzrazor | May 13, 2009 4:39 PM

Tweaked,

I know what you meant. I meant the same in my second sentence. The first one was sarcasm. You can't buy a national team, as far as I know.

Posted by: thor2 | May 13, 2009 4:45 PM

Talk to Jack Warner and the Trinidad & Tobago National Soccer Team ;-)

Posted by: Tweaked | May 13, 2009 4:51 PM

When Ted Leonsis bought his stake in the Caps, he didn't have to pay for a new arena -- that was already built. So that was another thing he lucked out on.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 13, 2009 5:04 PM

The recent interest in the Capitals is 100% due to their recent success. Who doesn't love a winner? Much of this success is due to Ovechkin. The Capitals were lucky to get him as Pittsburgh had more ping pong balls in the draft lottery that year. Picking Ovechkin was a no brainer and hardly an act of GM skill.

The question is - can the Capitals cement their recent success and turn DC into a permanent hockey town? A team that draws well even when they are not Cup contenders.

I think that is hard job because of the city:
a) Many residents have moved here from other cities and keep their sports loyalties to their original cities.
b) There are so many entertainment options competing and distracting residents from following sports.

The best case scenario for the Caps would be to have a 2 to 4 year window of hockey excellence, including a Stanley Cup. Continually losing game 7's, like the Caps did through out the 90's will diminish the fan base.


Posted by: niceshoes1 | May 13, 2009 5:27 PM

Re the SI lists, it's hard to argue with the five NHL owners that they've chosen as the best, but Leonsis surely has earned some kind of most-improved-franchise honor. The value he's added to the Capitals brand and to the Caps fan experience is unprecedented for any franchise in my memory that didn't up and haul off to another town, and Leonsis deserves extra credit for sticking out the tough years (not unlike Lemieux in Pittsburgh).

That said, SI and other reflexive Steinbrennolators are about to relearn -- thanks to the Pinstripes having frittered away umpteen draft picks due to their recent free-agency spree -- what it's like to reflexively worship a franchise that, given the opportunity, can yet become the baseball incarnation of the Redskins under The Danny. The Wilpons are no saints, but neither are they running their ballclub into the ground or soaking their fans to experience the shadow of past glory.

Posted by: Hendo1 | May 13, 2009 9:28 PM

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