Nats Park leading way for Winter Classic

Nats Park leading way for Winter Classic
September 21, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Winter Classic should be played in the District

Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said the concept of playing the 2015 Winter Classic on a frozen reflection pool on the National Mall is a “romantic notion,” but he and the NHL agree the infrastructure necessary for such an event would be cost-prohibitive.

“A football stadium costs a billion dollars to build and I think Nats Park cost $700 million,” Leonsis said Saturday, shortly after announcing Washington has been awarded the 2015 NHL Winter Classic.

“The idea of being able to replicate a stadium on the narrow Mall seems far-fetched. Yes, you could build stands on it and I think we’ll do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some kind of outdoor rink and there’s high school, college and youth hockey games there.

“But you wouldn’t be able to accommodate 50,000 people there, or 100,000 people there. And you certainly couldn’t build the infrastructure. So it’s a romantic notion and we’ll try to capitalize on it, but for an actual game I don’t think it’s going to be on the Mall.”

Although National Hockey League Chief Operating Officer John Collins said RFK Stadium, FedEx Field and Camden Yards are all considered candidates, he said Nationals Park would be “one of the first” considerations.

Leonsis seemed to agree.

“I think it should be in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to not think our fan base here in Washington, D.C. can fill the building up. I also think from a visiting fan perspective Washington makes a lot of sense because we have all the infrastructure and hotels and restaurants. It would be good for the city.”

Nationals Park is located in Southeast Washington and the Nationals are owned by Mark Lerner, who is a minority partner in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which was created by Leonsis. Asked if NatsPark was the leading candidate for the outdoor event, Leonsis deferred to the NHL.

“Totally up to league,” he said. “Mark Lerner is a really good friend and he’s a partner of the Caps and he owns the baseball team and I said, ‘Here’s John Collins’ email address. Go talk to him.’”

Collins said there are several options to consider before the NHL makes an announcement on the venue sometime in April.  

“We’ve done a lot of baseball ballparks,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of football stadiums. We’ve done a lot of city-controlled venues.

“Obviously, Nationals Park, with the relationship with Ted, but also the fact it’s a new ballpark [opened in 2008]. It’s a phenomenal ballpark. It’s downtown, it’s got a lot of the charm and element we like

“We’ve been there and we know how good a ballpark it is. It’s available. I don’t think they’re playing baseball Jan 1. I would say that would be one of the first. But we’ll look at RFK. We’ll talk to FedEx. We’ll look at Camden Yards. We have blue skies for a little while and then we’ll focus on getting a deal done with one of the venues.”

Collins said that if the 2015 Winter Classic is held in a baseball stadium, ticket prices will be equivalent to World Series tickets. If it’s held in a football stadium, prices will be comparable to tickets for an NFL or AFC Championship game.

Tickets for the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia ranged between $265 and $345 face value, with fans playing close to $500 at other outlets.

As for the National Mall, Collins said the magnitude of erecting a stadium in the shadows of the WashingtonMonument is simply to great for a one-time event.

“We’d love to figure out a way to do stuff there,” he said. “There is a huge expense. We’d have to get the Caps out of the Verizon Center and then build all the facilities and all the décor we need for an outdoor game.

“If we have to then build 50,000 seats and suites and concessions and restrooms it tends to put the game out of reach, to a point where ticket prices would not be where Ted wants them to be.

“He wants as many people as possible to be able to touch the event, touch hockey and touch the Caps. Hopefully, we’ll figure out a way to do something iconic and memorable and lasting. It just may not be the Winter Classic on the Mall.”