Fans, business owners, city officials celebrate as Wizards, Caps decide to remain in D.C.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment to expand operations in partnership with District of Columbia

By D. Kevin McNeir 
Special to the AFRO

A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia) after the news broke on March 27, announcing that a deal had been made with Ted Leonis, owner of the Wizards and Capitals, and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser that will keep the teams in downtown D.C. until 2050. 

The agreement becomes official once approved by the District Council. However, that appears to be a foregone conclusion as D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson participated in making the announcement, which signals a transformative renovation and modernization of Capital One Arena as well as the expansion into Gallery Place of Monumental’s business and hospitality operations. 

The carefully brokered deal ends any further speculation that the teams will move to a new arena in Virginia. Instead, it allows Leonis to modernize the current arena with financial support from the District totaling $515 million over the next three years. Legislation enacted by the D.C. Council will allow for funding through an appropriation for capital construction projects funded by general obligation bonds. 

In a press statement, Leonis admitted that while the process that secured the agreement had its difficulties, he’s convinced that the right outcome has been achieved. 

“I want people to understand how much I love Washington, D.C. and how much I’ve always loved Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Mayor Bowser and her team heard us and worked with us and gave us the tools for us to meet the needs of our business to expand right here in downtown … We got to this place because we kept an honest dialogue with the Mayor and her staff and we both took the high road as we didn’t know how things would end. This is more than an investment from the city – it’s a true partnership demonstrated by all of these investments which the city has committed to for our fans to have an exceptional gameday experience.”

In the 14 years since Leonsis has owned the arena, he has invested over $200 million in renovations and upgrades including $120 million-plus in capital expenditures on items including a roof, all new seats, new sound system, center hung scoreboard, LED lights/bowl lighting, concourses and concession stands, dehumidification, escalators, fire alarm, ice plant and tech improvements; $18 million for District E Powered by Ticketmaster and other renovations; a $60 million investment in a new broadcast and production studio for Monumental Sports Network; and $15 million in enhanced staff space for several hundred Monumental Sports employees. 

Monumental Sports’ President of Business Operations and Chief Commercial Officer Jim Van Stone, speaking exclusively with The AFRO, said given the provisions of the new contract, the organization will now be able to not only enhance the fan experience and provide much needed improvements to back of house, but also accommodate Monumental’s need for additional space that will translate into rapid growth. 

“We have had an incredible time in Capital One Arena over the past 27 years with the Caps and the Wizards, most recently bringing the ACC basketball tournament here (two years ago) and witnessing the Caps win the Stanley Cup,” Van Stone said. “Now, we’re hyper-focused on improving the fan experience and fan engagement. We’re committed to putting the best product possible on the court and ice and transforming the fan experience on a nightly basis. We want people to arrive earlier and stay well after the game has ended for a full evening’s experience.”

Van Stone commented on the buzz that has already resulted around the DMV following the recent announcement, both among businesses located near the arena as well as those who have expressed interest in setting up shop in or around Gallery Place and Capital One Arena. However, he said, he doesn’t look at Monumental Sports as “the anchor” for business downtown but rather as “the engine.” 

“We view ourselves more accurately as the engine that will revitalize the downtown area in which we’re located,” he said. “We currently bring some 3 million people to the arena each year. Moving forward, we plan to support more festivals in partnership with businesses on F Street, among other locations, in efforts to reclaim this as an entertainment district in partnership with the city. We think we’ll be the engine that moves future development and opportunities.

“Some studies conclude that sports teams don’t amplify a community but that’s a falsity from our perspective,” he added. “We pay taxes that help the city provide essential services which benefit the community, and we employ a lot of people from the District. We have 800 full-time employees and 2,500 part-time workers. That means we’re a big catalyst for driving employment in the District.”

Van Stone said the company’s negotiations with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin were always very positive and they felt very “wanted.”

“But we’re in the business of getting deals done – about getting things done. And we’ve landed in a good space,” he said. “Many people may not realize that around 20 percent of our ticket buyers are from Baltimore so they’re a huge part of our supporters. And we broadcast our games to as far away as Baltimore and Richmond, Virginia – more than 3.2 million households in total. So, the Caps and the Wizards are considered the home teams for a lot of people not only in the District but throughout parts of Maryland and Virginia. 

“We want people to enjoy coming downtown for sports events, for concerts, to eat, to shop – to have a total experience,” he added. 

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, in a statement, expressed his excitement about what the future holds. 

“Monumental Sports has been a great partner with the District since acquiring the Arena nearly 14 years ago. We’re ecstatic to keep them as a cornerstone of our Downtown,” Mendelson said. “As we’ve said all along: our government is able to move quickly and follow through on our commitment. With the extended relationship with Monumental, we’re looking forward to the reinvigoration of Gallery Place/Chinatown.”

Bowser, speaking recently to members of the press, expressed her sentiments this way: “What I learned loud and clear in the last three-and-a half months is that our residents and businesses feel the way I do about what a world-class city should have. We believe that a world-class city has its sports teams and the investment that we’re making we know will pay off. This deal is a win-win-win on all accounts.”

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