With some states beginning to reopen and the National Hockey League having preliminary discussions about what the season would look like if the season resumes, NoVa Caps takes a look at answering the question on the minds of many Capitals fans: if they bring crowds back for the playoffs, how will they decide who gets to attend the games? In a socially-distant world, Capital One Arena is going to look a lot different, assuming fans are allowed to attend at all.
Capital One Arena has a capacity of roughly 18,500 for hockey games. In 33 home games to date this season, attendance has averaged 18,570 (above capacity!), running the Capitals decade-plus home sellout streak to a franchise-record 487 games. But maximum capacity for games is likely to be a fraction of that — maybe 6,000 at most, perhaps as low as 4,600 if seating is limited to 25 percent of capacity. So how should the Capitals decide which season ticket holders get to attend?
The first step should be to give season-ticket holders the ability to opt-in or opt-out. Fans may chose to opt-out if they are among the vulnerable population at higher-risk if they contract COVID-19, or they may not want to spend discretionary funds given the economic crisis, or they may simply prefer to avoid large gatherings of any type right now.
Giving fans the ability to opt-out will likely lead to a significant drop of fans wanting to attend games.
Once fans have the ability to opt-out, the Capitals could hold a lottery for each game for those fans who want to attend. Within a lottery, there could be options:
- a straight, one-entry per account (with additional entries for every two seats on an account; additional entries based on ticket value; additional entries based on tenure as a season ticket holder; additional entries based on number of games attended this season);
- separate lotteries by section;
- separate lotteries for the lower bowl and upper bowl;
- separate lotteries by ticket category (VIP, Club level, PwC Club, etc.).
Allocate Games to All Fans
Under this system, all fans opting-in would be allocated seats for every third or fourth game based on seating capacity. There would be a lottery to determine which game people were allocated.
Here’s an interesting one: all fans get to pick the game they want to see, but they only pick one at a time and then the process starts over once all fans have picked a game. Here’s the catch: you choose to attend any available game in any round. Want to use your first pick on Round 4, Game 1? Assuming it’s available, you can lock-in a seat to the first home game of the Cup Final. Then again, if the Caps get knocked out early, you’re out of luck and you blew your chance to see a first-round contest. How confident are you that the Capitals are going all the way? Again, you could use a variety of ways to determine the order fans pick in: ticket value, tenure as a season ticket holder, random lottery.
Fans could be asked to bid to attend games. The Capitals missed eight home games, meaning they owe fans refunds on roughly 20% of their season ticket invoice. The Capitals could offer fans the opportunity to use those dollars to bid to attend playoff games. This one doesn’t seem as fair as others, since the price of post-season tickets has already been announced, but given the change in circumstances, it might be an option the team considers, perhaps as an option for seats in the handful of boxes or standing room only tickets that were are not already sold for the post-season.
The final option would recognize that teams need money to help the economics of the league and to avoid additional erosion of the salary cap for next year. Under this scenario, season ticket holders would have the ability to opt in to each game and tickets would be made available to fans with the most expensive tickets first. The Capitals would maximize ticket income, but that would also reward a lot of corporate ticket holders at the expense of die-hard fans who attend almost every game.
Recognizing that no system is perfectly fair to all fans, the Capitals could adopt a variety of options that blend some of the proposals outlined above. They could use one strategy to fill half the arena (Money Talks or Bidding) and use a Lottery or Allocation method to fill the other half.
The Capitals could set aside 10-12 Golden Tickets that would entitle fans to attend every game. Fans could vote on Capitals “Super Fans” to be Golden Ticket recipients, who would get two tickets for every home game (think the Horn Guy, Goat, etc.). Fans could nominate themselves and make their case.
Changes to Expect
A number of changes are expected at arenas moving forward. From arena entry to bathrooms and concessions, major changes are likely for the foreseeable future.
Teams have already talked about timed entry for games based on seating location. Fans could be required to arrive so that their interaction with other fans is limited, both in terms of stadium entry and seating. Just as airlines are now boarding passengers from the back of the plane to the front of the plane, fans closer to the ice on the lower level and further from the ice on the upper level could be admitted first.
The Capitals have talked for years about providing an app for in-seat ordering and delivery of food and beverages. The Nationals have had a system in place for a while, and social distancing could require a change at Capital One Arena when fans return. Other options include ordering ahead from your seat and then going to the concourse to pick up your food and beverages.
Bathrooms are also likely in for a change, with some sinks and urinals taken out of service or additional physical barriers in place to facilitate social distancing.
By David Brown