[Ed Note: This guest post was written by Addison Huber, who some of you know as ahwahoo2006 on Twitter, after being invited into the Owner's Box last Thursday for the Caps/Senators game. Thanks to Addison for the post and for the awesome Christmas Present. Also, we <3 you, Ted. Thank you for being the best owner in all of sports.]
For many sports fans, the mere mention of the name of the owner of their local team is enough to send them into heart palpitations and evoke a litany of curses that would put a sailor to shame. Within recent history we have seen owners trade away fan-favorite stars thought untouchable (Peter Pocklington) and take measures to ensure that their fans were unable to watch their teams on television without paying a hefty fee (Bill Wirtz). Even locally, in the Washington DC area, we are not immune to fan-unfriendly practices (see: television rights battles and sign confiscations). Luckily, Washington-area hockey fans are blessed with a different kind of owner: an owner who has gained recognition from fans and both traditional and non-traditional media alike as an owner to be admired and emulated.
When Ted Leonsis bought the Washington Capitals in 1999, there were already indications the he was not going to be a typical ivory-tower owner. In a Washington Post article, Mr. Leonsis noted that his strategy in running the Capitals would be to “let the hockey people run the hockey team,” and take a more hands-off approach to the personnel issues. It was evident, however, that Mr. Leonsis would shine in the areas of fan relations and marketing. As the same articled described, “[Capitals management] want fans to feel like “members” or “shareholders” in the Capitals, not merely ticket holders… They said they would like to meet every season ticket holder and establish a better line of communication between themselves and the fans.” (Washington Post, May 14, 1999, D1) From the start, Mr. Leonsis was not shy about reaching out to and engaging with fans. A few months into his tenure as a rookie owner, Mr. Leonsis “took a 40-minute break from his vacation last week to telephone a Washington Capitals season ticket holder and lobby her to renew her seats.” (Washington Post, July 13, 1999, D1)
That trend of accessibility to the Capitals chief executive has not only continued to the present, but has blossomed into an incredible demonstration of the power of social media and fan relations. Under Mr. Leonsis’ direction, the Capitals were among the first NHL clubs to utilize and legitimize bloggers as a news medium, granting them media credentials and crafting a Blogger Code of Conduct after blogger Eric McErlain of Off Wing Opinion contacted and met with Leonsis in 2005. In addition to his duties as owner of the Capitals, Mr. Leonsis serves on the board of directors of several companies, including RevolutionCard, Rosetta Stone, and SnagFilms. Nevertheless, he finds time to engage fans and season ticket holders via myriad communications avenues, such as AIM, email, his blog Ted’s Take, and Twitter. Mr. Leonsis also takes time to highlight extraordinary fans like Kiddo, the young Capitals fan struggling with numerous health issues.
Until recently, however, these concepts remained fairly abstract to me. While I was certainly aware of Ted’s reputation as a responsive owner, I had not been fortunate enough to experience it firsthand. That changed just before Christmas when I sent Ted an email regarding a recent post on Ted’s Take in which he expressed disappointment in the number of negative emails constantly clogging his inbox. I composed a reply in which I expressed my contentment with the team and thanks to Ted for everything he had done to bring about the hockey resurgence we are witnessing in Washington. True to his reputation, Ted responded within hours, asking for my phone number so he could call me. He called the next day and we chatted about the team and hockey. At the end of the conversation, Ted invited me to stop by the owner’s suite at Verizon Center during a game in early January. As I result, I found myself in well-appointed Suite 103 during the January 7 game against the Ottawa Senators. Ted was extremely gracious, posing for pictures with me and my friends, chatting us up, and providing snacks and desserts while we watched the Caps cruise to a 5-2 win over the Sens. The experience was truly memorable, and I really felt like a true stakeholder in the team, exactly what Ted intended with his fan-centric approach to management. Washington and the Capitals are lucky to have an owner like Mr. Leonsis, and his management bodes well for continued success in the years to come.
Below the fold are photos from Addison’s Night in the Owner’s Box with Ted Leonsis: