Outside the Verizon Center at 1 PM on Thursday, the temperature was flirting with 90 degrees, panhandlers were seeking shade, tourists were getting lost and found—and inside the arena, the son of Greek immigrants was describing his philosophy as he formally took over as the capital city’s top sports-and-entertainment impresario.
“It is official,” Ted Leonsis told the gathered media, fellow owners, and a sprinkling of invited fans. “The Capitals, the Wizards, the Mystics, Verizon Center, and Ticketmaster are now part of the same organization.” And Leonsis—who owns the Capitals hockey team and part of the other enterprises—is in charge, having completed the purchase from the family of Abe Pollin.
Leonsis, 53, once again displayed his remarkable facility at communicating and connecting with an audience. He glided from paying homage to Abe Pollin as he “tries to step into the shoes of a sports and social entrepreneur”; to his adoration for his wife and two children; to his rapprochement with Gilbert Arenas, the wayward Wizards star who is suspended from the league for bringing guns into the Verizon Center and served a month in a halfway house this spring.
“It’s very important for Gilbert to be re-embraced as a person and a player,” Leonsis said, but he needs to “show atonement.” Leonsis smiled and said he’s been e-mailing with Arenas: “I kind of like him, y’know?”
Leonsis promised to be very involved in running the teams and the arena. Turns out one of the 158 fans who e-mailed Leonsis about the purchase complained about the quality and quantity of the ketchup, and Leonsis promised he’d check the dispensers himself.
The mogul says he’ll also pay personal attention to his goal of having the most season-ticket holders in the NBA: “I will personally drive season-ticket holders to games, mow their lawns, wash their cars.”
Abe Pollin ran the Wizards as a family business under his privately owned Washington Sports and Entertainment. Leonsis brings with him the large ownership group of Lincoln Holdings, which he has merged with Pollin’s company and renamed Monumental Sports and Entertainment.
“They are my brothers and sisters,” Leonsis said of his partners. Among those seated to his right were Dick Patrick, Raul Fernandez, and Sheila Johnson—the three vice chairmen under his spot as majority owner. Mark Lerner, part of the family that owns the Nationals, was on hand. To make the deal—worth $550 million, he said—Leonsis brought on Scott Brickman, CEO of the Brickman Group, and SWaN Investors, represented by Frederick Schaufeld.
The political class was well represented. DC Council finance chair Jack Evans had a front-row seat, down the row from Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler and Virginia senator Mark Warner. Neither DC mayor Adrian Fenty nor Council chair Vince Gray made it, though they were invited.
I asked Warner whether he came as a fan or as a friend to Leonsis, Fernandez, and other businessmen he worked with in his entrepreneurial days.
“Many of them are my friends,” he said, especially Leonsis. “It’s cool to see a world-class guy build a world-class franchise.”
Warner said he was once a Wizards season-ticket holder. Would he become one again? “I have this day job,” he said. He’d love to get his three daughters aboard as Wizards fans. He certainly won’t be taking any free seats: “Ethics rules, you know.”