With the beginning of the lockout-shortened season just over the horizon, the Capitals hosted fans in an appreciation event at Verizon Center, where fans could pick their own seats for an open practice. The lower bowl at the Phone Booth was full, and the concourses teeming with fans in their hockey jerseys. The Caps promised free popcorn, sodas, hotdogs and hamburgers for the masses, and delivered with the expected lines throughout the evening.
Owner Ted Leonsis spoke with the media before the practice, and commented publicly for the first time on his role in the lockout and about the negotiations. Leonsis also spoke about the history of the franchise under his ownership, saying that he had “yet to make a penny of profit” from the hockey team, and preferring to keep the business details of running the franchises out of the view of the fans who consume the product.
In some ways, it’s easy to see why Leonsis is frustrated: when you guy a cup of coffee from a local shop, are you interested in what they’re paying their baristas? Or how long their contracts are? Generally that’s less important to your coffee experience. The same might be true for any number of other service providers that we deal with every day, but as we all know: sports is different. We want different things from our sports teams – they’re points of public pride, after all – and that means that we often want to see and know more about how they work inside. It may be a slap in the face to some to hear the owner say he doesn’t like prying eyes.
None of that dampened the festival atmosphere at Verizon Center last night as the players took to the ice, in some cases doing a dance, and the crowds were into it as the pucks once again flew across the sheet. The crowd wasn’t quite the size of a usual game day, and the muted atmosphere in Chinatown was a mirror of the reluctance many fans feeling a bit pinched by the lockout, but that there was hockey on a weeknight in winter felt just fine by this reporter.