Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sometimes, even New York gets it right -- Attendance in Washington and a lost opportunity

In this morning's "Slap Shot" blog in the New York Times*, Lynn Zinser states the following...

"The most sobering part of Wednesday night’s Rangers-Capitals game had nothing to do with the game — a 5-4 overtime victory by Washington, which was wildly entertaining unless you are a big fan of goalies — but the lack of people watching in Washington’s Verizon Center.

"The team announced the attendance at 12,553, which is laughable. There were entire empty sections. Any camera shot that caught the sections behind the nets showed swaths of empty seats. The team handed out bright red mullet wigs to fans in honor of ’80s night and I am guessing they have plenty left in backstage cartons.

"This is sad (the attendance, not the wigs) because Washington has one of the jewels of the N.H.L. in forward Alex Ovechkin, who is worth the price of admission alone. He scores. He skates like crazy. He lays checks on people like Rangers enforcer Colton Orr. He has 22 goals this season and is mesmerizing any time he is on the ice.

"Yes, the Capitals had a horrible start and axed their coach, Glen Hanlon. But they have rebounded, won four of their last five and have a terribly fun team to watch. In the N.H.L., this is unusual. Highly unusual. Perhaps Washington fans will figure that out this season."

It's past time to just say this..."sports fans" in Washington are squandering one of the great, and fleeting opportunities that come around rarely in sports -- the opportunity to see a legendary individual performer in the making just as his career is taking off.

Alexander Ovechkin is underrated by the NHL, to be sure (certainly with respect to coverage compared to one of the youngsters in Pittsburgh). But one could plausibly make the case that Washington has not seen this level of talent in his sport in the last half century of professional sports in this city. Our apologies to fans of the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas, but while he is a superb player and an engaging personality, he is not in the class of Alexander Ovechkin when it comes to dominating his peers. This year, his peer group is more or less Sidney Crosby and...well, that's it. And Ovechkin has something for everyone -- supreme open-ice skill, the ability to generate bone-rattling hits that Redskins' defensive coach Gregg Williams must envy, and an exuberance that shines on and off the ice.

While the Washington Redskins are, and probably always will be a social force of nature here, it would be hard to identify an individual player on any of their teams -- including their Super Bowl champions -- who measure up to Ovechkin in terms of their domination of the league in which they played. For fans of such as Darrell Green or John Riggins or Art Monk...they too were excellent players -- Hall of Fame worthy, to be sure -- but none (at least in our opinion) rose to the level that Ovechkin currently occupies.

No professional baseball player in Washington over the past half century was or is within shouting distance of Ovechkin's level of play, and we do not believe such fine players from Washington's basketball past such as Wes Unseld or Elvin Hayes had the ability to bring fans out of their seats each time they held the ball in the manner Ovechkin can when he takes the puck on a rush.

Washington, you are missing something very special -- as unique a player as has ever played in this city. A professional sports career is among the most fleeting, and a star's best years are only a portion of that. Ovechkin has not yet reached his peak or his prime. That, by itself, makes his accomplishments thus far in his career all the more astonishing. That more people have not availed themselves of one of the most spellbinding young talents in the history of his sport is the tragedy of an opportunity wasted, of Washington "not figuring it out."

* Thanks to GeorgeSpigott on The Official for the heads up.


smitty said...

While I certainly agree that Washingtonians are missing out on one of the most exciting athletes the District has ever seen, the fact is that the Caps over the last 5 years have been painful to watch at best to the casual, non-diehard fan.

I remember not too long ago when I would watch the Caps play in Carolina before a 2/3 empty arena. It didn't help that their seats were bright green, thus making the dearth of fans in attendance all the more evident. It stayed that way for a while, too, because Carolina flat out sucked.

...But then they started winning.

They brought the Cup to Raleigh-Durham and now they average between 16,000 and 18,000 per game.

The Capitals face a daunting stigma. Even when they start winning, people think, "Here we go again... they'll lift our hopes only to crash and burn like always." The only way past this is to win big and win consistently. Force the local media to pay attention by being too good on the ice to be ignored.

There's a long way to go, but the fair-weather fans who are ultimately responsible for filling out the stands at VC will return if the Capitals maintain their current course and build a winning tradition.

Oh, and getting old man Pollin to relinquish the 200 level seats from his dessicated claws wouldn't hurt either.

We'll get there, but it's going to be just us faithful for a little while longer. We'll be able to take pride in the fact that we were on board from the beginning.

GD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AO's Sunshine State Fan said...

Your column is dead-on, as usual. I live in Florida and will travel any distance to see the REAL "next Great One" play. AO is a joy to watch and very much worth the price of admission and a fancy hotel. If Caps fans don't want to support him, he'd look darn good in Bolts Blue! And I don't understand the NHL's need to ignore him and put Cindy Crybaby on a pedestal. I'm sure it's all a canadian thing. But hey, let the folks ignore this amazing athlete. It just makes easier access for me to enjoy him. And I DO!

DMG said...

I think part of the reason the Canes had terrible attendance was that they played in Greensboro.

Ovie Freakin Rules! said...

It's their (Washingtonians) loss.
I've been to several Caps games and LOVE watching Ovie play.
I've got my awesome white away jersey with Ovechkin's moniker on the back.
I've got his wall hanging that was given out during the last game of the year against Buffalo.
I've got a video of "The Goal" on my ipod.
On my jeans, I've even got the blood of one Pittsburgh fan who dared suggest that Crosby is of the same caliber as Ovechkin.

Okay, that last one was made up.
Or was it?

The point is, Ovechkin is freakin awesome! I love living close enough to see him on a regular basis at VC and Kettler.

Anonymous said...

"AO is a joy to watch and very much worth the price of admission and a fancy hotel. If Caps fans don't want to support him, he'd look darn good in Bolts Blue!"

My heart stopped even at the thought of that happening.
Now I need a drink.
Thanks buddy! :P

Christopher said...

I find it funny to listen to a New York writer mock attendance in D.C. Those are two very different cities there with very different sports environments.

Look, as a life-long player, I can appreciate Ovechkin and he is worth the price of admission for me on most nights. That said, he is not worth it for the average fan, and hockey is just not as big in this area of the country as it is in the Northeast or Midwest.

As much as a NY columnist may want to mock the attendance from last night, Lynnie left out three things: (1) the 12,000 plus that were there sounded more like 18,000; (2) mullets only went to the first 5,000 fans, so there were none left (do a bare minimum of research before say anything so obviously inaccurate); and (3) we still kicked Ranger ass -- the game only went to OT because the Caps came out flat for the first 10 minutes and gave up two garbage goals.

If the team keeps playing like they are playing now, the fans will come back. But Ovechkin or no, if they revert to the truly awful level of hockey they were playing earlier this season, even this life-long fan will probably stay at home. I mean, they were playing worse than the Whalers in a bad season. I grew up in CT, and that is freakin' bad.

Focality said...

I agree with smitty. Get this team winning again, get them into the playoffs and those fairweathers will fill those seats at the VC. Not too many teams can fill seats when they're doing poorly.

Look at Buffalo, Carolina and Ottawa. A few seasons ago, empty. They're doing well attendance-wise. If their play starts to deteriorate, well, we'll be talking about how pathetic their attendance is!

I live 3 hrs away from DC and have made the drive to see AO and the Caps. It's worth it.

Anonymous said...

It's sad when people would rather watch a bunch of grossly overpaid, uninspired dudes run around with a pigskin (and miss the playoffs yet again) instead of seizing the opportunity to see a superstar. Guys like Ovechkin don't come around DC very often.

Christopher said...

You know, I was thinking about this more last night, and I had another thought. My father always used to say while I was playing youth hockey, "Not one player does a hockey team make." Ovie might make it worth going to watch an otherwise average or slightly below average team, but for the first part of this season (except for the first 3 games) the Caps were clearly THE WORST TEAM IN THE NHL. Is it worth paying $50-$100 to go see that live when you can watch it for free on cable? Again, for people like us, maybe, but if you are only somewhat of a hockey fan and you make $50,000 a year? Nope.