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What economic opportunities are there with Monumental Sports’ planned arena in Alexandria?

We spoke to Mark Conrad, Director of the Sports Business Concentration and Professor of Law and Ethics at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business to discuss.

Governor Glenn Youngkin Joins Ted Leonsis In Alexandria, Virginia To Make Economic Development Announcement Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The news around Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s planned move of the Washington Wizards and Capitals to Alexandria, Va. is starting to sink in. Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about the move, you know now that either way, Monumental Sports is planning to move the teams to Virginia.

To this point, most of the reaction around the move has been negative. But we haven’t really thought about what this move could be for the teams and perhaps professional sports as a whole in the years ahead.

I spoke with Mark Conrad, Director of the Sports Business Concentration and Professor of Law and Ethics at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business last week about the news. This discussion will be in two parts: first, what this new complex in Alexandria can do for Monumental Sports; and second, what this means for Capital One Arena.

Bullets Forever: Mark, what are your thoughts about Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s plan to move to Alexandria so it can anchor a new entertainment district?

Mark Conrad: I think that it exemplifies a trend that’s going on. Sports teams are anchors to real estate or entertainment development. Virginia doesn’t want to move the Wizards and Capitals for the sake of it. They are an investment that can create other kinds of synergies.

By moving to Alexandria, Monumental has the space to do more things they want in on place. The Wizards will have a new practice facility which will lower their need to commute. There will be a smaller entertainment facility of 6,000 seats which can hold more events in addition to what the new arena will offer.

Monumental Sports Network will have its studios next to the arena and the entertainment center. The entire campus is also very close to Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington. And Virginia Tech will open its Innovation Campus next door. This can allow Monumental to develop relationships with VT and give students internships.

[Note: The VT Innovation Campus is focused on master’s programs in Computer Engineering and Computer Science. It’s not for undergraduates who are in Blacksburg down in Southwest Virginia. Perhaps some of these programs could be involved in sports technology.

Also, with Monumental Sports being in Alexandria, they would be relatively near the Arlington campus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which hosts their part-time MBA program.]

BF: You mentioned the positives of the move. There have been several narrative surrounding the negatives, such as moving an arena out of the city into a nearby suburb and longer travel times for some fans. Are there others that haven’t been discussed?

Conrad: The devil is in the details of the bonds that would be used to fund this project.

The Virginia legislature has not seen the details or debated them, although I guess that they are very much in favor of it. And who is issuing the bonds? Is the state issuing them? Who is guaranteeing them?

There haven’t been many details on these things, so it’s convenient for politicians to say that “no public money will be used.” But if these bonds are defaulted, it would be interesting to see who is left holding the bag.

BF: There is a perception among some Wizards fans that the fanbase of the NBA team is not the same as the Capitals NHL team. So perhaps the Capitals could go to this new facility in Alexandria and the Wizards could stay at Capital One.

In fact, one quote our loyal readers say is that the “Wizards fanbase is in DC and Maryland [in particular eastern suburbs like Prince George’s and Charles Counties] while the Capitals fanbase is in Northern Virginia. This also crosses racial lines because the Maryland suburbs of Washington are more heavily African American, while the Northern Virginia suburbs are more White and Asian American.

Is there any way Monumental can reconcile these differences between the Wizards' and Capitals' fanbases with this move?

Conrad: That’s an interesting point.

It makes sense that the Wizards’ fanbase is more concentrated in D.C. and Maryland because they played in Baltimore, then moved to Landover in Prince George’s County where the then-Bullets remained for over 20 years. The Capitals also played in Landover for much of that time as well.

But the two teams’ fanbases have evolved differently.

You are right that hockey fans are generally different than basketball fans, socioeconomically and racially. Given that the Capitals have moved from Maryland to D.C. and are now expected to move to Virginia, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more Capitals fans, especially those in Alexandria and Arlington feeling good about this compared to Wizards fans who live in Maryland.

Does Prince George’s County have public transportation to Potomac Yard?

BF: Yes, but it will require a transfer for some lines. The Orange, Blue and Green Lines go to Prince George’s County, but only the Blue line goes to Potomac Yard. Capital One Arena is at the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop, a major hub for WMATA’s Metrorail, but Potomac Yard is just on the Blue and Yellow lines.

Conrad: I would say that Wizards fans, especially those in eastern suburbs like Prince George’s (and Charles, because they don’t have access to Metrorail), would be very upset because they currently can travel to a major transportation hub. After the move, they won’t have that.

I don’t know if that will translate into a true loss of a fanbase and season tickets. If the Wizards are successful enough by the time they move and the fans are loyal enough, they may put up with it, even if they aren’t happy with it.

That’s because fan loyalty runs very high, even for bad teams. So, will these fans boycott the team and not go to games? That’s possible, but it would be a short term hit. Will they abandon the team and NOT be fans of the Wizards? That’s a lot harder because it’s part of the identification of the region.

BF: Since I (Albert Lee) am from Northern Virginia, I have semi-rebutted some fans who say that the Wizards’ and Capitals’ fanbases are very different with this response: the season ticket and corporate bases aren’t going to be very far apart. Would that be an accurate statement?

Conrad: I don’t disagree.

I would add that the corporate suite base is that big money base that Monumental will look at before considering a move. Many major corporations in Virginia and west of D.C. probably have suites for both teams, which may come as a package deal with Capital One Arena. Monumental knows where the ticket holders live and where their corporate money comes from.

BF: How full do you think the new Alexandria arena will be for the Wizards, especially if they don’t have a competitive team by 2028? Right now, they just began a rebuild and have had some of the NBA’s worst attendance for several years.

Conrad: What normally happens in the first season is that many people go for curiosity. Attendance tends to be good in the opening season of a new facility because they can “ooh” and “ahh” about that experience. For example, people traveling to D.C. for a conference could get an opportunity to buy tickets and check out a Wizards or Capitals game. So the Wizards should see a bump in attendance that first season.

After that first season, attendance will take a hit if the Wizards still aren’t good. The arena won’t be a unique thing at that point.

Later this week, we will release the second part of this conversation, discussing the future of Capital One Arena and the Washington Mystics’ planned return to Chinatown.