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Best Comedy Short of the Summer, OR What I Wish I’d Said June 21, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

For those who haven’t been following the issue of the proposed new signs at Verizon Center, there was a hearing about it Wednesday afternoon.  I had the time to attend, so I went down there, intending to be merely a show of support.  I ended up testifying as a public witness, because out of all the interests represented at that hearing, NO ONE came forward to speak for the fans.  No one.  So when they put the call up for public witnesses, I stepped forward.

The rest is a blur.  I don’t think I remember anything after that until I was nursing some Muesseli at the Au Bon Pain at 12th and E.   I think I had one of the most epic cases of stage fright ever experienced in the entire history of mankind.  I’m a fan, not a politician, and I looked and sounded like it.  If you can find the video, look it up.  It’ll be the most unintentional comedy gold that you’ll ever see.

My argument, from the perspective of a fan, goes something like this.

Someone was arguing at the hearing that new signs would benefit only one person.  Um, excuse me, NO.  Ted doesn’t just have that money sitting around:  he earns it from ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise.  Simply put, we, the fans, pay Ted that money.  So it’s not HIS money:  it’s the FANS’ money.  It’s OUR money.  So those signs would benefit THOUSANDS of people–the people who pay to attend events there at Verizon Center, who would otherwise have to absorb higher ticket prices.  Every million bucks in ad revenue that the building makes when it’s empty, is a million bucks that doesn’t have to get made at the gate–in other words, out of my pocket, and out of the pockets of thousands of other hockey and basketball fans in this city.  (As well as concert goers, horse lovers…you get the idea.  Bottom line, it’s a LOT of people.)

When I first got my seats in 417, Row E, six years ago, I was paying somewhere around $27 a game–which works out to about $1200, in round numbers.  My tickets this year were somewhere around $49 per–which works out to (again, round numbers) about two grand.  I’m scared to think about where they’ll go next year, given the labor negotiations going on this summer, but I suspect they’ll be heading north again.

How much higher can they go?  And if it gets that expensive just to get in the door of the place, what will become of the next generation of hockey fans?  If prices go so high that it ends up being $100 to sit in 421 Row Q, how will a family be able to afford a night at the rink?  From there, what becomes of the next generation of Washington hockey fans?  From there, what becomes of the team itself in a generation?  From there, what happens to Verizon Center?  From there, what happens to the neighborhood?

As an aside:  I don’t live in the neighborhood.  I understand that.  But it only makes sense that, just as the occasional hurricane is the price of living in Florida, and earthquakes of all sizes are the price of living in LA, showbiz glitz is the price of living in an entertainment district.  Hurricanes and earthquakes can DESTROY a home–a worse possibility than a despoiled view, yes?–but people still live in those areas and deal with the possibility.  Locating in an entertainment district and demanding a halt to the trappings of the entertainment industry, on its face, is simply short-sighted nimbyism.  If you don’t like bright lights, don’t live in an entertainment district.  That’s just common sense, I should think.

But back to my concern as a fan and season ticket holder.  I am EXTREMELY concerned that if Verizon Center isn’t permitted to make more money from its exterior, then it’s going to have to make that much more money from its interior, and that means more money coming out of MY pocket.  And there are thousands of other planholders, just like me, who have seen their ducats get more dear over the past few years.

Exterior signs, therefore, would not be a benefit to just one person.  They would be a benefit to thousands of Verizon Center patrons, all of whom would be paying less for their tickets than they would if the signs were not permitted.  And that money could be spent on a pre-gamer in the neighborhood, instead of being hoarded for the concession stands where, for instance, a 32-ounce Coke Zero sets me back $5.75 and doesn’t even get me past the second intermission.

The benefits of new electronic signs would be felt by thousands and thousands of Verizon Center patrons from all over the Washington region, and those benefits would ultimately flow to residents in the area around Verizon Center.  The benefits of an unsullied view, however, would benefit only the few who happen to live and work in that neighborhood, and no one else.  Where, then, is the greater good?  I must respectfully submit that the greater good would result from allowing the signs, which would, yes, benefit ownership.  But that benefit would then be felt by thousands of Verizon Center patrons, who would then pass the benefits along to the Gallery Place neighborhood.

Simply put, if ownership benefits, the fans will benefit, and ultimately, so will the neighborhood.  But if the rising costs of Verizon Center are forced to be passed on at the gate, then we, the fans, lose; and ultimately, so will the neighborhood around Verizon Center.

So…that’s what I wish I’d said.  More to the point, I wish I didn’t have to be the one to have said it.  Frankly, I’m extremely surprised that I was the only fan who showed up to voice that concern, even though I didn’t get anywhere CLOSE to that in my remarks before the Council.

Officially, I can’t even say I spoke for everyone–I only spoke for myself as one single planholder.  I wish that there had been other, more official (and better prepared!) fans there to raise that issue with the Council.  I wish it hadn’t been me, to be honest.  While my civic stances aren’t exactly a state secret, I do try to keep my hockey and my politics separate.  Jumping headfirst in front of a hearing, without even a set of notes, isn’t something I intend to make a habit of, believe me.  But somebody had to say it, and that somebody turned out to be me.

I hope I didn’t disappoint too much.  I did the best I could, and I know it wasn’t enough.

So, while it was an honor and privilege to go up there, I hope I don’t have to go up there cold like that anytime soon.


UPDATE: Thanks to DC Sports Bog for the link love.  Just to clarify:  I don’t think ticket prices would necessarily go DOWN per se, I just think they won’t be going up AS FAST.  I suspect that right now, if MSE raised all ticket prices to the point where they’d break even right away, the price shock would be so high there’d be a fan revolt. If what I’ve heard about MSE’s finances is all wool and a yard wide, ticket prices were so low for so long that there’s a not insignificant gap between what the gate is, and what it would have to be to break even.  And with player salaries constantly going up, and (in the Caps’ case) a new CBA in the works, expenses may get higher than they’ve trended for the last few years–potentially leading to a larger operating loss going forward, even as ticket prices have gone up.

You don’t go up in front of a legislative body and say you’re losing money if you’re actually running in the black.  Lying to lawmakers is bad form at best, criminal at worst.  So if Ted’s on record saying he’s losing money, he really is losing money.  Yes, the man’s got a net worth that’s more than the entire GDP of some small countries, but that kind of success ought to be emulated, not castigated.  And a seven figure loss is a seven figure loss, no matter HOW much you make.

My point is that while I wouldn’t expect my tickets to get less expensive if those signs go up, at the very least, my price at least wouldn’t double up again in another eight years.  That’s why I’m a firm supporter of the proposed signage.–CS



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