UPDATE at 7:40 p.m. ET on Dec. 13: The FAQ is updated given the number of announcements earlier today.
UPDATE at 7:33 p.m. ET on Dec, 12: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis have a press conference tomorrow at 9 a.m. ET in Alexandria.
BUCKLE UP. THIS STORY MOVED FASTER THAN WE EXPECETED.
The original article is below.
Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that some representatives of a Virginia General Assembly committee (that’s the state legislature) have approved a plan that would include a new multipurpose arena meant to lure and move Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s Washington Wizards and Capitals to Alexandria as soon as 2027. On Wednesday, Dec. 13, Monumental Sports announced that they intend to move the teams in 2028.
The news report made it sound like the Wizards and Capitals are likely moving out.
But here’s the thing: there are still multiple hoops to jump through first. And any such move is still years away. So in this piece, I will answer the questions around this the best I can.
Q: What happens next with the Virginia plan?
Given the press conference on Dec. 13, the deal is effectively done. It just needs all sides to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s.” That will primarily be with the Virginia General Assembly, the state legislature, considering that the Alexandria City Council and Mayor are on board.
The General Assembly’s two houses would have to debate a bill to authorize the plan, starting in the House of Delegates, then the Senate, or vice versa. Both houses would need to pass it. Then, it goes to the Governor’s Office for his signature. If the Governor signs the bill, then it becomes a law.
Q: The Virginia General Assembly majorities and the Governor are of different parties. Could that affect whether the plan passes?
There are many hot button issues in the United States. But this is not one that will go along party lines.
It is true that the Va. House of Delegates and Senate will have Democratic majorities next year while Governor Glenn Youngkin is a Republican. However, politicians in both parties have wanted to attract a major professional sports franchise for quite some time. The Alexandria City Council and Mayor are Democrats, as well as U.S. Sen. Mark Warner who spoke at the press conference.
Virginia tried, but failed to attract several teams: the team now known as the Washington Commanders in the 1990s, the Washington Nationals in the 2000s, and DC United in the 2010s. Even the Washington Spirit, the DMV’s NWSL team, relocated from Leesburg, a Loudoun County suburb 40 miles northwest of D.C. to the District in 2023.
So this is a big win for Virginia, the largest state without a major professional sports team playing in its boundaries.
Q: This plan isn’t final because you mentioned that laws have to be passed. Could this all blow up in Monumental Sports’ and the Virginia governments’ faces?
It would be very embarrassing for Leonsis to see this plan fail. And politically, Gov. Youngkin, Sen. Warner and the Alexandria politicians would be toast if this fell on its face. So I just don’t see this happening.
But now that you answered the question, if there is a reason why the plan doesn’t pass, it may be because General Assembly members from outside Northern Virginia may not want resources going to that part of the state, particularly those in rural regions like Southwest and Southside Virginia. But those regions are experiencing population decline and won’t have the representation to block something most Northern Virginia politicians want.
I’m not a politician, but I think this plan passes. These kinds of things have probably been looked at for quite some time from the Virginia government side as well.
There could be another thing that could prevent this complex from happening, namely from “NIMBY’s” or Not in My Backyarders. This describes residents who don’t want certain developments near where they live, though they may like them being somewhere else. They could be quite vocal to make sure that they get their way.
NIMBYism is partly why the team now known as the Commanders (posting the old name in the comments will get your comment deleted and I can’t stop that) didn’t move to Potomac Yard in the 1990s. NIMBYism is also why Washington Dulles International Airport is in Sterling of Loudoun County, Va. instead of Burke in Fairfax County, the original proposed site In the 1950s.
Q: Why would the Wizards and Capitals at least move out of Capital One Arena?
The simple answer’s below.
To be more specific, Monumental Sports has complained of paying high leases to use the land at Capital One Arena. While they own the building, the land is leased, which is a peculiar arrangement. This led Leonsis to disclose that Capital One Arena’s land lease payment to the DC government was about $36 million annually in 2016. And that’s NOT including the mortgage payments.
Teams that simply lease a municipally-owned arena typically pay a lot less than that.
Why is 2028 the year when the Wizards and Capitals could leave D.C.?
Monumental Sports can pay off a municipal bond as early as 2027 to the D.C. government . According to the Washington Post, the D.C. government is owed $35 million in bonds which were funded to renovate the arena in 2007. If this bond is paid out early, Monumental can get out in 2027. That said, Monumental said that they plan to have the Wizards and Capitals play at the new arena in 2028.
Q: If the Wizards and Capitals move out of Capital One Arena, what happens to the arena?
Leonsis announced that he plans to have the Washington Mystics move from the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights to return to Capital One Arena, presumably after a renovation. This could come from the $500 million the D.C. government would give to Monumental in a last ditch effort to keep the Wizards and Capitals.
Because Monumental Sports owns Capital One Arena, though not the land it is on, that is enough for the organization to try to have it both ways: build a new arena for the Wizards and Capitals while keeping the original arena, presumably renovated for the Mystics.
According to a press release, Capital One Arena will be repurposed to be a “flexible” arena that can carry 10,000 to 20,000 seats, depending on the event.
Q: Didn’t the Mystics move to ESA because Capital One Arena is too big for them?
Yes, they moved to ESA because Capital One Arena WAS TOO BIG FOR THEM. But that was during the pre Elena Delle Donne and pre-NIL college player years.
The WNBA has grown a lot since 2017, more than most skeptical WNBA folks think. The league is about to expand into San Francisco and some of the new league owners are willing to shell out big bucks for practice facilities, 10,000+ seat arenas that get packed and charter flights.
There’s a reason why WNBA players, especially the big time free agents want to play for the Davis family, the owners of the Las Vegas Aces. Or perhaps someone like Joe Tsai, owner of the New York Liberty (he also owns the Brooklyn Nets). Even smaller team owners like Force 10, the owners of the Seattle Storm are building separate practice facilities!
Those owners are willing to dish big bucks in ancillary benefits that are already eclipsing what Monumental is offering. And this move looks like a way for Leonsis to tell the WNBA and free agents, “You get a world class arena JUST FOR YOU, right as the WNBA is growing and attracting bigger crowds.”
The one thing I am interested in is seeing what happens with the Mystics’ practice facility. From the press release, it sounds like they are getting everything at Capital One Arena. But we also know that this situation was not ideal for the Wizards when they didn’t have a practice facility besides a tiny gym. So it’s possible that they stay at their current practice facility at the MedStar Health Performance Center.
Either way, if the Mystics move to Capital One Arena and can fill 10,000 fans regularly over the next decade while keeping a great practice facility (whether it’s building one inside Cap One or remaining at MedStar), it’s a savvy move for Monumental for being head of the curve on this one. The WNBA arms race is underway, and Monumental doesn’t want to be caught empty-handed. What worked in 2017 isn’t working in 2027.
Q: Could D.C. balk at giving $500 million for a “renovated Mystics arena?”
It’s possible. But the $500 million the D.C. government offered is well below the $600 million Monumental wanted originally, whether they wanted Capital One Arena to be a Mystics specific arena or not.
The Mystics only play 20 games there a year plus the playoffs. AND THIS NUMBER COULD INCREASE AS THE WNBA CONTINUES TO GROW!
Any renovation will take into consideration of ALL the events Capital One Arena can offer year round whether there’s a sports team or not.
So stop that lame narrative. Even the “Amazon Arena at Potomac Yard” is going to hold more events than just NHL and NBA games. Is the Virginia government spending billions of dollars just for two teams and nothing more? Fat chance!
Quotes are my own conjecture.
Q: What about the Go-Go?
There is no plan to move the Go-Go from ESA.
Q: Is there precedent for major professional teams moving to the suburbs in recent years?
Some precedent exists, but it’s not analogous to this possible movie.
The Atlanta Braves moved to Truist Park, in Cumberland, a suburb about 10 miles northwest of the city in 2017 after playing at Olympic Stadium/Ted Turner Field from 1997-2016. The move was partly because the team had disputes with Atlanta about redeveloping areas near Turner Field, among other things. Also, part of the move was because their season ticket base was more concentrated in the northwest suburbs, including Cobb County, the jurisdiction where Truist Field is.
Because Potomac Yard is very close to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (which is next to downtown) and is still very accessible for downtown residents, it isn’t a move that would alienate Maryland and downtown D.C. residents like a move to Ashburn in Loudoun County. If you aren’t a local, Ashburn is 30 miles northwest of D.C., next to Washington Dulles International Airport.
And for reference, the Wizards and Capitals used to play in Landover, Md. in Prince George’s County, an eastern suburb of Washington. That is not an ideal commute for any Northern Virginia resident.
Q: What happens to the MedStar Health Performance Center if the Wizards move?
As stated previously, the Go-Go at least would use it, and perhaps the Mystics.
Q: Are there other suburbs in Virginia that could have a Wizards and Capitals arena?
It’s possible that NIMBY’s in Alexandria and Arlington County may complain about the teams moving to Potomac Yard and successfully prevent it from happening.
But I don’t see the teams moving that far away from Washington if they do at all.
Of all the Virginia suburbs the Wizards and Capitals could play in, most of the land in nearby suburbs is already taken or planned for other projects.
And though I would find it very convenient to see the Wizards and Capitals play in Ashburn because I live in Loudoun County, I also know that’s not realistic for most of the DMV. The center of the season ticket holder base for both teams is well east of Dulles Airport.