Changing arena name won’t solve problem
So what’s in Ted Leonsis’ wallet? Apparently, not enough — at least not as much as he had hoped. His renaming plan for the Verizon Center fell short, according to sources.
Leonsis had hoped for a big payday for the international naming rights for his arena, the Verizon Center, going as far as hiring a company to secure those rights.
That search failed to find someone willing to pay the freight.
Apparently, the international business community, like Leonsis, isn’t crazy about the 20-year-old Verizon Center.
They dropped that effort, and instead went to someone in the family for help — Capital One, already a corporate sponsor for the Washington Wizards and Capitals, and whose chairman, Richard Fairbank, is a partner in Leonsis’ Monumental Sports.
It will put money in Leonsis’ pocket — he got none of the Verizon signing money, which was paid out to the late owner, Abe Pollin, at the beginning of the deal, when it was the MCI Center. But this was not what Leonsis hoped for. Compare it to trying to sign Al Horford and settling for, well, not Ian Mahinmi exactly, but not the free agent you wanted.
The naming rights deal, along with Leonsis’ check from CSN-Mid Atlantic as a result of the partnership deal made last year that gives him one-third of the network, should be enough to cover his high-priced payroll payments from the Otto Porter four-year, $107 million contract and the John Wall four-year, $170 million contract extension Leonsis handed out recently. He needs all the money he can get. Leonsis was handed a Wizards-like deal — bad — when, after acquiring the Capitals in 1999 from Abe Pollin, he took over the basketball franchise and arena in 2010 after the death of Pollin. He took over mortgage that costs about $36 million annually, and he reportedly suffered an estimated $40 million in losses last year.
He wouldn’t mind leaving for greener pastures — a new arena.
The future Redskins stadium has dominated the public conversation, but make no mistake about it, a new District arena is a prime topic of discussion and planning as well.
Leonsis’ strong support of the destructive plan to bring the Olympics to Washington in 2024 was driven by his hopes for a new arena as part of that bid at the RFK site that would also have been the home for a new Olympic stadium —the new home of the Redskins.
Fortunately for local residents, that secretive plan fell flat on its face. But you can be sure, once Leonsis’ new arena and practice facility in Ward 8 is up and running next year, his sights will be focused on the public spotlight for a new Wizards and Capitals home.
He should only hope that deal with the city (assuming they stay in the District) will be as Leonsis-friendly as his $55 million southeast D.C. arena is — $23 million from the city, plus $27 million from Events DC, one of those shadow government operations. Leonsis is reportedly putting up $5 million for construction.
No more Abe Pollin deals for him. Jack Evans, the powerful District council member and chairman of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, told me on my podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” that he is more inclined to refurbishing the existing arena — a la Madison Square Garden in New York — than a new arena.
“I’ve talked with (Wizards and Capitals owner, as well as Verizon Center owner) Ted Leonsis about this a couple of times,” Evans said. “The Verizon Center, the inside is great, the court and everything but it is a building that it 20 years old, and it’s aging. It was built in another world in the District of Columbia. Today you would not build like a monolithic building.
“Look at the Sixth Street side,” Evans said. “There is nothing there, it’s just a wall, facing the ugly Metro building which is across the street where our Metro headquarters is, these Joseph Stalinistic buildings that are just horrible. You wouldn’t build that today. You would have life. You would have restaurants in both of those areas.
“In the next five years or so, we’re going to have to either redo the existing Verizon Center and bring it into today’s world, or think about moving the Verizon Center to another location,” he said. “I like the first. I believe the Verizon Center is the catalyst for life downtown.
“If you were to move it to the RFK site, for instance you would really take away that excitement that exists downtown at times when it wouldn’t happen otherwise,” Evans said. “So what we could do is what they did at Madison Square Garden. They kept playing at Madison Square Garden, but they redid the whole Garden and made it into what it is today, a real showplace. So we could do the same thing.”
At John Wall’s press conference formally announcing his contract extension, he spoke of his hope that someday his jersey will be retired among the franchise greats, like Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. If he delivers on his promise — “this is the team I want to be with for the rest of my career and I won’t stop until we get to hang a banner in the rafters” — the next arena may carry his name.
Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis had hoped for a big payday for the international naming rights for the Verizon Center, but he failed to secure a buyer.