Chang­ing arena name won’t solve prob­lem

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

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.

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