Monumental Sports set to take next steps in ‘bricks and clicks’

WASHINGTON — Monday afternoon brought a chance for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Capitals, Mystics and Wizards, to tout their growth in both the physical and virtual space. The MSE Technology and Innovation summit at the Marriott Marquis featured remarks from owner and CEO Ted Leonsis, as well as panel discussions that included heads of various technology companies with which Monumental is working as it expands its Washington sports empire.

Most local sports fans already know about the new Wizards’ practice facility and home court for the Mystics in Ward 8. Leonsis hopes the location will serve as a community hub, attracting not just locals from the neighborhood, but people from all over the D.C. area.

“That community has not been embraced enough by our federal government and our city,” he said, but pointed out the transformation the downtown area has undergone since previous Wizards owner Abe Pollin moved the team to Verizon Center.

“The first couple of years at Verizon Center people were afraid to come to this part of the city,” he said, referencing the Marriott Marquis itself as a component of the area’s revitalization.

But Monumental is expanding beyond its new physical structure, including the announcement Wednesday that the group will create a new venture capital fund to invest in sports startups and technologies. As the first NBA team to invest in virtual reality, Leonsis seemed eager to continue to push to be at the front of the technological frontier in the sport.

“It’ll both be a challenge, but also an incredible opportunity for marketers over the next 10 years,” he said.

Monumental Network is also on the brink of a major new infrastructure rollout sometime later this month. Leonsis’ son Zachary is the network’s vice president and general manager, and spoke with WTOP regarding this shift and what it will mean for the organization.

“Where I really see our growth is increased distribution, then really changing the model in terms of how we deliver the content, and then what content we’re delivering,” he said. “I think our future will really involve a lot more live (broadcasting), and I think we’ll have license to experiment with cool new bundle offerings.”

The NFL experimented with live streaming for one of its London-based games last season, which was available only via Yahoo! But with the more tightly bound relationship between Monumental and Comcast, could such a thing work for a Wizards or Caps game?

“I think the way we will approach anything will be from the perspective of a strategic segmentation in how do people want to digest the content,” said the younger Leonsis. “I think that there are some pieces of content that are more prone and more highly viewed on certain platform versus others. E-sports is a great example of that. E-sports is blowing up. There are League of Legends champions series that are being viewed by 25-30 million people, all via Twitch.”

And while E-sports may be a more natural fit to air in the online environment, Turner Sports will take a shot at bringing it to broadcast television, with 20 live events set to be broadcast on TBS this year. Whether or not that will draw audiences remains to be seen, but the online numbers are hard to argue with. If Monumental can find such audiences in its programming, more and more may find its way online.

“I think that we want to have the flexibility and optionality to place programming where it’s most desired and where it fits best,” said Leonsis.

As was reported a few weeks ago, MSE is on the brink of acquiring an Arena Football League team to play at Verizon Center as soon as the summer of 2017.

So could we see the new football team potentially find its broadcast home on Monumental Network?

“Potentially, yeah, absolutely,” said Leonsis. “Every sport, every opportunity is different. I think we respect the variations in fans and the fan base and their preferences, and so we approach every opportunity on an individual basis.”

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