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What would the future of Capital One Arena be like after the Mystics return?

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 this and more.

NBA-New Orleans Pelicans at Washington Wizards Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In our second part of our discussion with Mark Conrad, we discussed the future of Capital One Arena in Chinatown. How will the Washington Mystics are in it? Conrad is Director of the Sports Business Concentration and Professor of Law and Ethics at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business.

To read the first part which focused primarily on the Washington Wizards’ pending move to Alexandria, click here.

BF: The Washington Mystics currently play at the Entertainment and Sports and Arena, one of the WNBA’s smallest facilities. But they are scheduled to return to Capital One Arena in 2028 or after the Wizards and Capitals make their scheduled move to Alexandria.

Mark Conrad: I think the Mystics moving to Capital One Arena is just a way to keep that arena booked once the Wizards and Capitals are gone. But it could still be a good thing for the Mystics since they would move to a bigger arena and can sell more seats.

The Mystics could also be following a path not unlike the New York Liberty over the last 10 years. [Madison Square Garden, Inc., the New York Knicks’ ownership group] relegated them to Westchester for the 2018 and 2019 WNBA seasons. During that time, they sold it to Joe Tsai, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets. Since 2021, the Liberty have played at Barclays Center like the Nets.

The Liberty have received some pretty good turnout since returning to an NBA sized arena, and also have one of the best teams in the WNBA. So if the Mystics can do something similar by the time they return to Capital One Arena, I can see something similar.

BF: You mentioned that the Mystics are just one way to keep Capital One Arena booked during the year. Currently the arena is booked for over 200 events a year. Monumental Sports & Entertainment said in a release that they would like the arena to be booked over 100 events/nights a year after the change and some improvements. What other events could you see there and would it be a loss for that arena specifically?

Conrad: Overall, this is a loss for Capital One Arena. It’s hard to justify making big time improvements to an arena when it loses two Big Four sports teams, so I don’t see the DC government willing to invest much into it.

Also, the Mystics will only play about 25 games a year (20 for the regular season plus more for the postseason). Georgetown University’s men’s basketball team plays there for maybe about another 15-20 games. But that still means that Capital One Arena needs another 70 or so events/nights to get to 100.

Even if Capital One Arena adds some big annual college sports [things like the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, NCAA basketball tournament games or a Frozen Four], those events aren’t something an arena can depend on every year like professional and college sports teams playing most of their home games there. The Mystics and Georgetown men’s basketball alone aren’t enough.

BF: Do you see Monumental Sports keeping Capital One Arena in the long term after moving the Wizards and Capitals to Virginia?

Conrad: I don’t see Monumental keeping two arenas long term.

Time is not on the side for Capital One Arena unless the city of DC will kick in or unless Monumental wants to kick in $200 million or more in renovations. Monumental can afford these costs, but it could be a distraction.

Renovation costs can be higher than anticipated. And even for this new arena, construction costs for facilities are also often higher than estimated. So do you really want to deal with several construction projects at the same time?

So Monumental will have to deal with construction for the new Wizards/Capitals arena, the new Wizards practice facility, and the media studios, at least in part with the Virginia government. Do they also want to deal with renovation and upkeep costs for Capital One Arena at the same time for a building that won’t be as full after the project ends?

Finally, given arena sponsorship naming rights, Capital One Bank may want to renegotiate the terms of their arrangement. Capital One is paying the money it is for the arena because of the Wizards and Capitals filling up a major portion of those dates. And whether Capital One Arena gets renovated or not, Monumental still has to fix every plumbing and electrical problem there.

These things add up, and may convince them to sell the property in the years ahead.