Are the Capitals turning into a regional franchise?
That's not easy to do in a city where even the immediate metropolitan area is divided into the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. College loyalties conflict between Georgetown, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech, among others. There are thousands of folks who moved here from all over the country for work and retain their old sports loyalties. Add in Baltimore and Richmond -- two mid-Atlantic cities where the Winter Classic did boffo ratings, but have their own distinct identities -- and things get even more complicated. This isn't exactly Pittsburgh, basically the capital of a united Western Pennsylvania, or Boston, which anchors the rest of New England.
We've long known the Redskins have devoted fans across a large swath of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. The historical basis for that isn't always pretty. But anyone at the playoff game in Tampa Bay five years ago knows it still holds. Can the Caps create a mini-model of that from Richmond to Baltimore with a little southern Pennsylvania thrown in thanks to their successful AHL affiliation with the Hershey Bears?
Baltimore earned a 6.6 rating for Saturday's Winter Classic -- the third-highest for any city in the country and not that far behind Washington's 7.6 rating. And Richmond -- last we checked not exactly a hockey hotbed -- was eighth overall with a 3.8 rating. Those are the only two cities without an NHL team to finish with viewership in the top 10.
Add in a phenomenon we've long seen at Verizon Center -- the 'Oh' chant during the National Anthem that is as Baltimore a tradition as you can get -- and the Caps' appeal is clearly stretching beyond the immediate Washington market. At Heinz Field on Saturday the "Oh" was audible to everyone in the stadium as thousands of fans yelled out. It's doubtful the Orioles had one that loud at Camden Yards all last season.