When the Washington Capitals moved to the MCI Center in downtown Washington for the 1997/98 season, the move was not really appreciated by most of their fans. Until then the team had hit the ice at the USAirlines Arena in the suburbs of the nationīs capital and the fans had the impression that the Capitals wanted to get corporate Washington into the arena and the families out (or letīs put it this way: the traditional fans in the suburbs didnīt have wallets as deep as those of the government and the corporations in town, and if a move into the city was welcomed by those with the wallets it was acceptable when not all the old fans moved with the team into the new facility).
The team, which had quiet good attendance numbers at the USAirlines Arena with a seating of 18.130 prior to itīs move struggeled hard at the box-office at the new MCI Center. The opening game at the arena resulted in a sellout but after a couple of games the number of tickets sold started to drop below the 10.000 level quiet often. And with many no-shows (corporate season tickets) often not more than 6-7.000 people really came to the games. Instead of a buzzing arena in downtown Washington the Capitals had an arena where most of the concession stands in the upper level didnīt even open up on game-nights. Especially the fans who regulary supported the team at itīs former home stayed away. Ticket-prices had more or less doubled, everything closer to the ice than the last 10 rows of the third level had at least a 40-dollar-price tag to it and the club-level (2nd level) was almost completly empty for most games. The old fans, confronted with the most-expensive parking in the league (12-20 dollars around the arena), a more compicated drive to the arena and the steep ticket prices stayed away, the new fans didnīt bother to show up, the move seemed to turn into a disaster early on. And with parking-prices ranging between 12 and 20 (!) dollar around the arena itīs easy to understand why the fans didnīt make the trip into the city
During the season the team turned into the best team nobody cared about and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference. Only during the last couple of games the fans started to return to their team and attendance-figures reached the 15.000 mark more often than not.
The team made a suprising trip to the finals and went down in four games against the Detroit Red Wings, but the late run in the regular season and the great success during the playoffs improved the relationships with the fans rapidly again. During the 1998/1999 season the Caps appeared to be back on the right track at the MCI Center. The team missed the playoffs but games with crowds of less than 10.000 didnīt occur any more and many games were sold out with a capacity crowd of 19.740. Prominent visitors such as Bill Clinton also helped the teamīs media-relations and obviously the fans got used to the high ticket-prices which triggered such an outrage among the fans right after the move.
With just 600.000 inhabitants Washington is also not really a huge local market, but with many family-nights and other special deals the team did a good job of compensating the early shock of the MCI Center. A high unemployment rate in Washington, a black community that makes up close to 50% of the population, all those factors make it hard on the Caps to sell their tickets (no racial prejudism here but I guess itīs a given that NHL crowds have a higher tendency to be rather white than NBA crowds).
The MCI Center itself is one of the nicer arenas in the NHL and is located right in
"Chinatown" (which is more or less a joke in Washington, as far as I could tell
itīs just a collection of a few chinese restaurants). Besides the Washington Capitals the
lowly Washington Wizards also call the MCI Center their home. Both teams are partly owned
by NBA-legend Michael Jordan (has a 10% stake in the Caps and a lot more with the
Wizards). During the early years at the Center the Wizards outdrew the Caps at the
box-office, currently the Caps have move ahead though (which shouldnīt come as a suprise
with the Caps playing for a cup and the Wizards playing for first overall in the NBA
Tips vor visitors:
For many east-coast tourists Washington is probably one of the main attractions which they want to visit. I personally am not really a huge museum-fetish and if you donīt like museums too much 95% of all touristic attractions in Washington are not really a huge blast anymore. One or two days should be enough to take a look at everything interesting in town; if youīre on a vacation in New York or Philadelphia and want to watch a game Washington is also really close (4 hours by train from Penn Station in NYC). A train ride from New York costs around 140 $ round-trip, if youīre not on your own it might be a lot cheaper to rent a car (the idea came to us after we had spent 330 dollars (train was "cheaper" back then) for Amtrak-tickets, should have thouht a bit more but if youīre right in Manhatten the last thing you think about is driving a car). The train station in Washington is located right downtown, just a short walking distance from most hotels and touristic attractions.
Tickets should be no reason for concerns in Washington. The Caps have definetly gotten a shot in the arm at the box-office with their recent success but the number of sellouts is limited to a few each season. Especially tickets vs local rivals such as the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers will be sold out in most cases, but for games other than that you will probably get tickets at the box-office without problems. Anyways, tickets can be ordered online at ticketmaster (link at the end of the article) or by calling 202-432-SEAT, 703-573-SEAT or 410-481-SEAT). Ticket prices basically range from 20 to 60 dollars, the whole lower level which I would recommend sells for 50 (behind the nets) and 60 dollars (the straights). Tickets in the lower upper level are not really a lot cheaper and the 2nd level is reserved for club-seating so that youīre relatively far from the ice for the 40$ that get you a good seat in the third level (you can also try the cheap upper level tickets and try to move down, shouldnīt be a problem on most nights).
Donīt expect a great nightlife around the arena at night. After the game I saw in DC
we wanted to visit the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington which was just five walking minutes
removed from the MCI Center. First of all we didnīt really pass too many busy clubs or
bars, second of all we passed a McDonalds that closed at ten and third of all there were
about five people at the Hard Rock Cafe at 11 pm. I honestly have never seen such a dead
surrounding area of an downtown-arena before, I also donīt know where the 17.000 or so
who watched the game that night disappeared to. I donīt know if there are areas of
Washington where itīs worth to go at night (I would guess there are), but the downtown
area near the MCI Center definetly isnīt a buzzing place to go.
Seating-chart of the MCI Center:
Seating-chart provided by www.eishockey.com.
Links to the team:
Ticketmaster for online-ticketing: www.ticketmaster.com
The team: www.washingtoncaps.com