What can NHL do for its fans?

What can NHL do for its fans?
January 7, 2013, 3:30 pm
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John Walsh, 53, of Leesburg has been a season ticket holder with the Capitals for 11 seasons.

Back in July, he says he saw his bill for the 2012-13 season, which he shares with five others, increase by 15 percent.

That strip of season tickets, which began at well under $20,000 is now “knocking on 30 grand,” Walsh said.

But like many hockey fans, Walsh is the forgiving type.

The Capitals gave Walsh the option of receiving a full refund for the home games that were canceled during the lockout – that total is expected to be 17 games – but that option came at the risk of losing his season tickets to someone else.

Instead, Walsh chose to keep his money with the Capitals, along with the one percent interest the club gave him.

That means Walsh will be back in his beloved seat when the Capitals return to VerizonCenter next week for the first time since last May.

“You have a certain number of dedicated fans that will always watch hockey,” Walsh said outside Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where a handful of Caps returned to work on Monday.

“But yet a huge influx of people who sort of watched hockey or didn’t watch hockey -- all of those people are maybe a third of the total,” Walsh said.

“Maybe they went on to basketball or maybe they’ll come back. I think that’s where the big damage is. The casual fan who came on board with [Alex] Ovechkin when we were winning, now they’ve had all these months off. Maybe they won’t come back.”

Now that the NHL has ended its work stoppage, its next order of business is repairing the damage done to a disenchanted fan base that has always lagged behind fans of the NFL, MLB and NBA in numbers, if not in passion.

“It’s all about money,” said Walsh’s 15-year-old son, Liam. “That’s all they care about. It should be all about the fans who love the game.”

So what can the NHL do to get fans like the Walshes back on their side? Free tickets? Gift cards to arena concessions? Autographed pucks?

“I honestly don’t think there’s anything team management or the league can do for fans,” John Walsh said. “Five free beers or a free Subway, that’s not going to cut it. The fans just want to watch the game. That’s enough.”

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