Dave Nichols: Nats hope for parallels to Capitals

The Washington Capitals begin their quest for the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday against the New York Rangers. The Capitals have built a young, energetic, coachable, dedicated team through the draft, selected free agency and shrewd trading. They have signed their star players, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to long-term, market standard contracts. They have embraced and backed their head coach, a 30-year plus minor league veteran who is now the winningest in the NHL since he took over four years ago.

They have vigorously and relentlessly promoted thier product in the D.C. market and nationally, all while promoting a spirit of transparency and dedication to their most important customers, the local fan base.

But there was a time when folks weren’t so enthused with Ted Leonsis and the Capitals. When Leonsis first took over, he took the easy way out - chasing free agents and throwing money around like that would solve all the problems the franchise had. Anyone remeber the Jaromir Jagr affair?

Many of these problems were the same facing the Nationals today: underwhelming performance on the field, poor attendance, disenfranchised fans and worse, arenas filled with opposing team’s fans, evidenced at Nats Park by the legions of Phillies fans every time the two teams play.

Mark Lerner sits on the board of Leonsis’ sports management company, Momumental Sports and Entertainment, so he’s seen the blueprint for building a perennial playoff team. He’s seen firsthand the resurrection of a franchise, one that now operates with the fans as integral partners with the team. He, with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, have adopted principles that Leonsis utilized to rebuild the Capitals team, organization and brand.

It starts with the players, and just as the Caps were lucky enough to be in position to draft Ovechkin and Backstrom, so too were the Nats lucky to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But it’s just a beginning. The Caps have more firstround picks on their roster than all but one team in the NHL. The Nats are making strides in this regard, but there’s still a ways to go.

But the Lerners are shrewd businesspeople and they can see a successful buisness model right in their own back yard. The Capitals are proof that if you put a quality product into the market and value your customers like they are partners in your business, you can build a large, dedicated fan base that not only buys your product, but will promote it within the market until it becomes a self-promoting community in and of itself.

They have access to the blueprint.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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