By Adam Vingan
In less than two months, Verizon Center will once again become the home of the Washington Capitals as they open the 2011-12 regular season October 8. If last season is any indication, Verizon Center will be the place to be at least 41 times during the fall, winter, spring and (hopefully) summer. The Caps sold out every home game last season and all five home playoff games, bringing the total to 106 consecutive sellouts. According to Sports Business Journal, the Caps saw a 0.7% increase in overall attendance between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
All of these numbers are quite impressive, especially for a team that once struggled to fill seats with its own fans as opposing fans made MCI/Verizon Center their second home. Yet, what’s even more impressive about the sharp increase in fan support is looking at who exactly makes it up. Walking around Chinatown before a game, the number of women wearing Caps paraphernalia is astounding. It’s not just women being dragged to games by their obsessed boyfriends, husbands or friends. For some ladies, a night out on the town is not getting made up and going to a club. It’s throwing on a jersey and jeans and jumping on the Metro.
These are just personal observations, but studies released from Scarborough Research and Turnkey Intelligence back up such ethnographic research. Here’s a quick breakdown of findings from the respective studies:
- Female support for the Caps in the D.C. area has increased 144% since 2008, with the 147,899 that year booming to 361,234 in 2010. That number is slightly higher than the same study regarding male Caps fans, which has seen a 128% increase.
- Female merchandise sales at the Verizon Center team stores saw an 80% increase last season with much of it coming from 75 new women’s styles available for purchase. Women’s jersey sales were up 102% during the 2010-11 season.
- More than 86% of game attendees – including more than 82% of women – reported that they felt the Caps connect adequately with women. Only 50% agreed with the same question in 2008.
- Last season, Club Scarlet’s membership grew to more than 12,000 women, a 33% increase from the season before.
There has be to something that draws these ladies to the Caps. “Brooks Laich’s dreamy eyes” might garner some resentment (and no dates), so here’s what some female Caps fans said drew them to the team and the game:
“I think it was a number of things. The biggest probably was going to the games and the atmosphere. I always tell people that now my absolute favorite part of the games is ‘Unleash the Fury.’ It’s just one of those things every Caps fan knows and loves and I love being a part of it.” – Kathleen Wilcox, 22, Baltimore.
“I grew up in upstate New York in a very hockey-centric area. My now-husband played and I fell in love with the game. We moved to D.C. and bought tickets. We followed casually at first and really just started to build our love for the team, what they stood for, the personalities and really, just good hockey.” – Heather Mabb, 26, Alexandria.
“Growing up I was always aware of hockey from friends and family members who played and/or were fans. I really started noticing the team during the playoffs of 2009. I remember watching the series with the Penguins and going crazy.” – Jen Glicoes, 25, Washington, D.C.
Hockey is a man’s game. Hard hits, trash talk and bad blood all manifest themselves on the ice. While the women above are in their early-to-mid 20s, Glicoes has noticed that all women have found themselves entrenched in the game just as much as their male counterparts.
“I see women of all ages,” Glicoes said. “Preteen, teen, young professional, middle-aged and older.”
What these women want fellow Caps fans to know is that they are not all consumed with how attractive the players are, but the action on the ice and the love of the team in general.
“I think men are surprised after five minutes of talking to me that I know what I’m talking about,” Wilcox said. “I don’t just talk about how cute [Alex] Ovechkin is. Dont get me wrong, most of the guys on the team are good-looking and I won’t lie that it’s not an added benefit to being a fan of the Caps, but I will talk about the duo of [Karl] Alzner and [John] Carlson and how they are benefiting the defense or the latest trade that I’m upset about.”
The Caps have made sure to make women a top priority of their overall fanbase. Club Scarlet (whose slogan is responsible for the headline of this article) has given females a chance to learn the game as the NHL’s first team-associated club made solely for women. The club’s signature event, “Hockey ‘n Heels,” with its on-ice demonstrations and video sessions, is a hit, so much so that there were two such events in 2011 and the second sold out within minutes. The popularity is evident, but not every woman feels the need to be associated.
“‘Hockey ‘n Heels.’ Cute title, fun concept, but I’ve never gone,” Mabb said. “I don’t need [Capitals head coach Bruce] Boudreau to show me tape and explain what icing is. I don’t need Carlson to show me how to hold a hockey stick. Those of us who know the rules inside and out will be the ones who are actually, you know, watching the games rather than seeing it as a social activity. I’ll jump up and scream like a sailor if there’s a call I don’t like, a fight, etc.”
Of course, Mabb does not speak for every female Caps fan, but her concerns are justified. Female fans do not want others to think that the Caps are merely just eye candy worthy of “Tiger Beat,” but based on the new studies and the amount of effort that the organization has put into cultivating smart, knowledgeable female hockey fans, that will be a misconception that will hopefully evaporate over time.
“I would say that based on the female Caps fans I know, they are women who know the game of hockey and can speak to the technical aspects of the game and are very passionate about the success of the team,” Glicoes said. “It varies, but they seem to be mostly women who know the game and are fans of the game and the team, rather then say, ‘My boyfriend dragged me here’ or ‘I want to be the next Mrs. Semin.'”