Ted Leonsis talked in-depth about various things in and around Monumental Sports in a 90-minute interview with Washington Post reporters earlier this week.
First, let’s get to the immediate short term issue — the Wizards’ 0-3 start.
Scott Allen and Dave Sheinin wrote the column that had Leonsis’ money quote in regard to the Wizards and their poor start. I’ll just give you the quote here from their piece:
“I think that fans [believe] in the win-now [mind-set], and if you don’t win now, if you lose two games in a row, make a change,” Leonsis said. “And they should be. It’s fantastic. It generates click streams. Right now, we developed a plan. I was in the middle of it. We were executing against the plan and the plan is working slower than I wanted it to be. But I’m in the middle of it.”
I take issue with the first part of Leonsis’ quote, that losing two (now three) games is “fantastic,” at least for click streams.
The Wizards have built their team around John Wall for the last six seasons. Sure, they had some playoff success, but poor starts have been an issue every season he was here except in 2014-15 when they with a 10-5 record through November.
Yes, there will be a lot of clicks when a team starts out on the wrong foot. But I find those clicks to be anything but fantastic. It wasn’t fun writing about John Wall and Bradley Beal’s “tension” and low franchise rankings in the preseason, and reading a long time fan’s short FanPost calling for Scott Brooks’ termination two games into this season. I’d rather go in-depth on why we get discounted pizza a bit too often or about big plays that deliver big wins on Mother’s Day Weekend.
As for the second part of that quote, I have a question. Who was “working against the plan” and slowed it down? Was it former head coach Randy Wittman who tended to play veterans over younger players, no matter the cost? Or was it President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld who hasn’t drafted particularly well beyond the Top-3? Was it the players themselves? Or was it some prospective free agent who spurned the team last summer?
The answer is probably some combination of all of these and more, but the bottom line is this. The Wizards should have never found themselves “working against the plan,” whatever it is, in the first place.
Sheinin wrote another column specifically on Leonsis’ plans for Monumental Sports long-term. Much of it focuses on his subscription-based version of Monumental Sports Network, his minority ownership in Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic, and his plans on owning more real estate, presumably for his entities.
Despite the fact that he is investing money into a new Wizards and Mystics practice facility, an arena for the Mystics and a D-League team, Monumental Sports Network, and bought an expansion Arena Football League team, he is claiming that his enterprise will lose $40 million in 2016.
One reason for the loss is because the Verizon Center’s mortgage costs $36 million annually, which Leonsis called “the worst building deal in professional sports.” Fortunately, he expects that Monumental will pay off the mortgage by 2023, when he said “I will be a free agent. I mean, that hasn’t been lost on me.”
The “free agent” quote may be quite telling. Are the Wizards and Capitals potentially moving out of Verizon Center to another location in the District like the RFK Stadium area? Or could they move to Virginia or Maryland? At first glance, it’s hard to imagine them anywhere else but Chinatown. After all, the Verizon Center is already located in a vibrant part of town and it isn’t 20 years old yet.
I think this is Leonsis posturing for city money for a real estate project, like Verizon Center renovations, but who knows.
Based on reading the articles and Albert Burneko’s harsher take on Deadspin, I will say this: It’s hard to be sympathetic with Leonsis on the mortgage payments, even if they are truly higher than payments other teams are making. He knew what kinds of debts he was getting into when he was part of previous owner Abe Pollin’s ownership group. And in 2023, Monumental Sports would own the Verizon Center with no lien. If Leonsis is truly losing significant amounts of money, people will ask why Leonsis is investing resources into many ventures in the first place.
Since I haven’t heard anything to the contrary, it’s safe to assume that Monumental Sports has enough liquidity to pay its employees, bills, and various investments. Because of that, he should also have no problem investing in the Wizards and make the painful move, including making a change in the front office or players when those times come.
To be fair to Leonsis, he explicitly said, “I’m not deaf” and “I feel more accountable for our success and failure than a single individual” in regard to criticism of his handling of the Wizards in Allen’s and Sheinin’s piece. And he also mentioned that his evaluation of Grunfeld is independent to that of Brooks and his contract. Therefore, it seems that he would have no problem letting Grunfeld go, perhaps as early as this season if his recent player acquisitions do not meet expectations.
I’ll hold Leonsis to his word since he claims full accountability. Though no one wants to see the Wizards have another underperforming year, we’ll see soon enough if another poor season results in major changes.