Capitals taking advantage of Baltimore’s bandwagon fans?

April 18, 2011 | Keith Melchior

It’s been nearly 15 years since professional ice hockey was played in the city of Baltimore. In September, the Washington Capitals will break that drought and play their first pre-season game against the Nashville Predators.  Oddly, the Preds come to town with 2 former Capital front office members, David Poile and Barry Trotz.  The last time those 2 guys were in Baltimore was 1993 when Poile was the Capitals GM and Trotz was the Skipjacks head coach. Coincidence? Maybe.

Ice hockey has always been a tough sell in Charm City.  The late owner of the Skipjacks franchise, Tom Ebright, always used to say he needed 4000-4500 people in the seats to “just” break even. When the team couldn’t draw those numbers consistently, he moved the franchise to Portland to replace the defunct Maine Mariners and thus became the Portland Pirates, leaving Baltimore’s arena empty 40 times a year.

In 1995, after a 2 year hiatus, 2 guys from New Jersey (Gertner and Teck) who wanted to own a hockey team convinced the AHL to allow a team back in Baltimore, got an affiliate agreement from the NHL expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim,  and the Baltimore Bandits were born. Being a brand new NHL team, the Ducks tried to play off the Disney movie but after the initial hype, the people weren’t buying into it very much.  The Jersey boys knew little about Baltimore’s hockey history and how to properly market the team in this area and lasted one season before selling the franchise to former Baltimorean Mike Caggiano, who had success owning a minor league baseball franchise in Prince William, VA.  With a “local” owner, hopes were high, but late in the season Caggiano prematurely announced the building of a new arena near Routes 95, 1, and 695, but somehow forgot to gain the approval of Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger at the time. After that debacle, you knew the franchise was on shaky ground when they fired the raccoon mascot and 3/4 of the front office staff with 2 months of the season remaining.  Thinking they were deceived, crowds dwindled into the upper 100’s to low 1000’s and the death knell was sounded for the 3rd time by the  AHL in Baltimore.

In 1996, Caggiano somehow landed an ECHL franchise and played for 2 seasons in Upper Marlboro as the Chesapeake Icebreakers in the Showplace Arena. My guess is he was thinking he could compete with the Capitals by offering a lower price alternative to watching a professional ice hockey team. I was an off-ice official for the Icebreakers and trust me, other than the tobacco industry, there is nothing else going on in Upper Marlboro  to attract the locals on a weeknight or Sunday, let alone any hockey fans from the Baltimore metro area (quite a few of which made a weekend day trip  traveling up I-83 to watch Baltimore’s former arch-rival Hershey Bears)  The Icebreaker’s crowds averaged in the 500 to 900 range, if that.  I think I saw the place almost sold out once (2000 seats?) and can’t remember how that happened. Must have been a San Diego Chicken or Morganna visit or special buy 1,  get 10 ticket prices.  Once, we counted the crowd on a Sunday afternoon at 231.  Similar to what occurred in Baltimore, the polar bear mascot and most of the front office people were fired in February, and the ECHL died a quiet nonpainful death in Southern Maryland after the 1999 season, allowing the horses and guns/knives  shows to once again take over the Showplace Arena.

Getting back to Washington, the Capitals pretty much washed their hands of ANYTHING Baltimore related after the Skipjacks franchise was relocated to Portland.  After Abe Pollin moved the team from Arena Drive to New York Avenue, pretty much gone were semi-monthly road trips to see the Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Canadiens, Blackhawks and Red Wings come to the I-495 area. Gone were those $10 nosebleed seats high above the video scoreboard at the Capital Centre (those seats still offered a great sight-line) and hello $25 parking lots and trips to the MCI Arena via the DC Metro or get stuck in downtown DC traffic and overpriced $30 nosebleed seats.  I figured, if they  washed their hands of my city and fellow hockey fans, then I’m washing my hands of them.The curse of the Washington Crapitals began.

I recall the Washington Bullets took a chance and played 4 games a year at the Civic Center, but they’ve been so bad for so long, hardly anyone went and a 12,000 seat arena was 1/3 to 1/2 empty.  Of course these 4 games were against teams like Sacramento, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Cleveland and the L.A. Clippers, aka, all teams that stunk. They couldn’t afford to lose any more money and pulled out of that deal after a few seasons.

Now look who’s crawling back to Baltimore after finally realizing there are some hockey fans they didn’t alienate over the years, not that they really NEED anyone from Baltimore to help fill the phone booth on NY Ave. Now that the team is playing well and has allegedly the best player on the planet in Alex Ovechkin, the once 1/2 empty Verizon Center is nearly full on a Tuesday when the Florida Panthers or Edmonton Oilers visit the nation’s capital. So what’s the REAL reason behind the Caps decision to play a meaningless game in Baltimore? To reward the “many” Capitals’ fans here who may not be able to afford a ticket to a real game in DC? Are you kidding me? Look at the prices they are charging for this “classic” exhibition game. If you can’t afford a ticket to the Verizon center how are you going to afford a ticket to this thing (anyone know what they charge for exhibition games in DC?) What a load of CRAPital!!!

They are taking advantage of the bandwagon fans of Baltimore during their 2011 Stanley Cup run by marketing a pre-season game some 5 months from now.  They are dubbing it the “Baltimore Hockey Classic.”  WHAT?  There were special pre-sale deals with ticket prices ranging from $32 to $145 PLUS fees of up to about $15 per ticket.

I just clicked on the website for Ticketmaster to see what was available. Section 112 next to visitors bench along the glass row BB (a terrible seat to begin with)  $145 per seat (I clicked 2 seats )+ a facility fee of $2 + a convenience charge of $14.65 which brings the total to $323.30. Not to be outdone I also looked at 2 seats in the upper deck level 300 and see 2 available in section 309 (center ice) row C seats 12-13 for $42 each + $2 facility charge each + $9.90 convenience charge each  (so it’s less convenient but cheaper to sit in section 309 than it is to sit in section 112?) So, 2 tickets with questionable sight-lines to the near boards will cost you $107.80.  And PSL owners and fans complain about paying full price to see a Ravens’ pre-season game?  NHL or not, where’s the outrage over these price plans? Do they get a pass just because it’s a one-timer? I think it’s a slapshot in the face charging NHL level prices in an AHL level  city. Shame on them.

It was just a few years ago when the Capitals pulled out the trickery for playoff games in the pre-Ovechkin days by blocking calls from the Pennsylvania 412 and 717 area codes to their ticket phone lines, thus not allowing Flyers and Penguins fans easy access to watch their teams play the Capitals. They couldn’t even sell out home playoff games prior to 2008. (Imagine Mr Angelos blocking calls from New England region and New York/New Jersey to his 848-BIRD phone lines?  He’d go broke, yet he still charges the HOME TOWN Oriole fans a premium price to see the Yankees and Red Sox play at OPACY)

So go ahead Baltimore Capitals’  fans, enjoy the “classic.” Spend your hard earned money to watch a pre-season exhibition game and remember there’s absolutely NO guarantee you’ll see the likes of Green, Arnott,  Knuble, Semin, Ovechkin, Neuvirth, or Backstrom play in that game.

You get what you pay for, and regardless of whether it’s a chance to see a real live (meaningless) NHL game being played in Baltimore or not, in my opinion it’s not worth the money. And for those “fans” or politicians who think this will help in the effort for Baltimore to get a new $ 600 million arena built downtown at taxpayer expense, you’re obviously smoking the wrong stuff.

I think it’s a “classic” joke.