So I'm going over the Caps schedule for this season and trying to figure out which games to go to. And of course there's plenty of good games to choose from, starting with the opener against the Hurricanes. There's the Dec. 1 matchup against the Penguins--always entertaining. Now the one I've had my eye on is the end of season game against the Panthers. That's during Fan Appreciation Week, where at the end of the game it's been a tradition that the players give their jerseys literally off their backs to some lucky fans in attendance. That's when it hit me....
When has there ever been an "Owner Appreciation" night?
I can hear you snickering on the other side of the monitor. Well laugh all you want, but think about it: while it's true that we the fans are what keeps the team going, you have to admit that, without ownership, there wouldn't BE a team in the first place. Players' salaries, management, staff, facilities, equipment, even those oversized souvenir cups all cost something...somebody's got to pay for it all so that the team can keep going, right?
Look, I'm certainly not suggesting we happily accept the prices we pay given the state of things. But as long as we all understand that this is the way things work (because we should all know by now that communism failed) why not appreciate what we have? Because the fact is, we have one of the best owners in the game, perhaps in all of sports. I don't care what others think, give me Uncle Ted any day.
Show me another owner who has done as much or more for the fan experience at least in hockey. When Mr. Leonsis took over ownership the first thing he did was open his email up to suggestions about the team, big, small, and in between. And you know what? He read EVERY SINGLE ONE. How do I know? Because I sent him one myself about the lack of information regarding the Verizon Center---stuff like Metro stops, parking, places to go after the game that kind of thing. He sent me a reply that was short and to the point---he thanked me for my input and he'd look into it. Sounds generic yeah I know--except he actually DID look into it because now there's all kinds of info including this handy page on the Caps' official site.
Then there was the list. I'm talking about the 101 (some say more) improvements he made so that the gameday atmosphere was much more enjoyable. Things like cleaning the glass between periods and the goal horn. I remember watching the first game that year seeing how excited he was when that first goal was scored. That's what makes it so special--Ted obviously loves being part of it just as much as we fans do--because he is one. If you want to know more look here.
And how could we ever forget the time during the 2001 playoffs against Pittsburgh when he created that program to block residents of Pennsylvania from buying playoff tickets? NIIIIIIIIICE. Hey--I say it's a small price to pay for shoving Yanni down our throats years later. You don't have to go back too far to remember that one.
Even his greatest failure was done out of love for the team. I remember one big complaint we as fans would have was that we would never go after big-time free agents in the past. This approach was under the previous regime which was more, uh, frugal. So what did Ted decide to do? Grab the biggest name in the game at the time, Jaromir Jagr. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.....
Perhaps Ted's greatest contribution is that he has made the NHL the most internet-friendly of the four major sports. Scratch that, no not perhaps....it IS his greatest contribution. Because with his background in how New Media works (sorry but "internet-savvy" doesn't even begin to do a titan like Leonsis any justice), the word "blogosphere" is now a part of the hockey vocabulary. And that means anyone who has a love for the game from the guys and gals at Japers Rink right down to my humble little site here all have a chance to air our feelings---and be heard loud and clear. Podcasts and blogs? They'd still exist but probably wouldn't carry the weight if they didn't have the blessing (and backing) of Uncle Ted.
When it comes down to it, Ted Leonsis does what all fans hope an owner will do--give a damn about both the team and the community. So much so that he's willing to recognize a part of the market that sometimes has gone unnoticed. That's right, my backyard of Baltimore, Maryland. By all accounts (watery ice surface notwithstanding) the Baltimore Hockey Classic was a huge success. Awesome decision to have the game there although if it's to become an annual thing, they need to find a way to de-humidify First Mariner a lot better.
Like the pic? I call it "Walk the Red." I unfortunately didn't have the pleasure of watching the game live, but this was taken from my trip home on the Light Rail. If you think for a moment we Baltimoreans don't love hockey, think again. Plenty of Capitals red from where I was, both on and off the train.
Ted Leonsis has done and will keep on doing so much for the fans--count on it. Certain detractors who shall remain nameless can't even take away from what he has accomplished. Let them squawk all they want, it matters not. When you can write a book called The Business of Happiness and mean it, you don't have to listen to a handful of idiots making senseless noise. We should all be so lucky because when you do what you love, it shows. Let that be a lesson to us all.
Oh yeah, thanks Ted...for everything.