On Monday afternoon I sat in a conference room at Kettler Capitals Complex and watched and listened to a wide-eyed Tim McDermott enthusiastically detail for me the first-ever Capitals Convention, slated for September 26 at the Gaylord Convention Center. It’s been more than a year in the planning, will require just about every member of the organization to pull off — “It’s an all-hands event,” McDermott told me — and may just end up being, in McDermott’s words, “unlike any event any D.C. sports team has carried off” in town.
McDermott, the Capitals’ Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, was quick to point out that Capitals Convention will not be just another “Fanfest.” Instead, he described to me what the organization envisions being “a total immersive experience . . . this will be a true convention.”
All told, the day will command upwards of 12 hours of immersion in all things Caps. To wit:
- A fabulously conceived walk-through of how the team manages its salary cap, led by assistant general manager Don Fishman, aka ‘Donny the Fish.’
- The nuts and bolts of the team’s scouting efforts, including video of prospects and how they’re specifically evaluated by the scouts.
- An overview of the team’s farm development system.
Count me in for all three panel discussions. And there will be many more — 15 “breakout” sessions, according to McDermott, including, potentially, a panel discussion of media coverage of hockey and the team in D.C. and its remarkable evolution. Best of all, the Caps want their fans to have a role in shaping the themes of some breakout sessions, so soon fans visiting the team’s web site will be polled as to what else should be addressed. Magnificent! Additionally, beginning soon, there will be weekly updates on the team’s web site about the development of the convention program.
My first question for McDermott yesterday was about a convention role for the team’s alumni, and he assured me that already the organization had blanketed the alumni with formal invites for the convention. The late September date may prove unworkable for some ex-Caps involved in minor pro coaching and management, with their new seasons newly or nearly underway, but McDermott emphasized that the team won’t be sparing expense trying to get “A-list” alums in town for the gig.
“We will be flying guys in,” McDermott told me.
One especially esteemed alum who ought to be accorded a priority place at the convention, I believe, is legendary broadcaster Ron Weber. I’ve written to Mr. Leonsis before urging his consideration of a special night honoring Weber. Perhaps the convention could be the time and place to bestow something like a lifetime achievement award on Weber. Those of us Caps’ followers with a few greying hairs would be on our feet at that moment.
The Chicago Cubs get credit for launching the idea of a convention for fans just a couple of years ago, and last year the Blackhawks followed suite and held their first convention. The Capitals sent “spies” to Chicago last summer to absorb the proceedings, and they’ve taken best practices from it, added their own flavor, and are excited about what this event holds for the region this September and in the years ahead.
Reaction to the announcement last week of Capitals Convention I was thoroughly positive: the team sold 1,000 tickets to it in the first 48 hours, and all 100 ‘Golden Tickets’ — the $350 premium ducats that afford purchasers “fast-pass” access to autographs and priority seating for all breakout sessions — are gone. The Gaylord and its 75,000 square-foot ballroom can accommodate 5,000 conventioneers, and the team hopes to sell nearly that many tickets. The club did consider the D.C. Convention Center, which is certainly large enough, but that facility doesn’t offer the breakout rooms that the Caps feel are a real showcase aspect of this convention.
Capitals Convention will not be a money-making venture at a 4,000-5,000 level of patronage, McDermott claimed: the team will spend at least $300,000 organizing the convention, and when you run the admission numbers ($40 for adults, $25 for kids), it simply can’t be a cash cow for the club.
But that’s not the point. When I spoke to McDermott last year about the remarkable ‘Rock the Red’ marketing campaign — its conception, execution, and future — he told me that the team needed to build on it, to perpetuate it. The organization is aware that the ante sorta gets upped in this region with hockey in January, once the Redskins’ season is complete. They want to push on that calendar a bit, to make hockey “hot” in hotter months. The September convention is a big-idea strategy to that end.