WASHINGTON — Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis joined WTOP Monday morning to talk about many developments taking place within his organization. In addition to discussing the developments with the Capitals, the Wizards, and the new Entertainment & Sports Arena in Ward 8, Leonsis dropped the surprise announcement that MSE is launching a second Arena Football League team in Baltimore to compete with the expansion Washington Valor.
MSE already expanded its footprint in professional sports by adding the Valor, giving them a stable of teams in the NBA, NHL, WNBA and, now, the AFL. The unprecedented move will give MSE ownership of two of the five teams in the league in 2017. The team will play at Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore, and should be named in the next 30 days, according to Leonsis.
“We’ll be the only sports and entertainment platform to manage two teams in two cities,” Leonsis told WTOP’s Bruce Alan. “I believe in the AFL. I believe in indoor sports.”
Although NFL viewership is down, Leonsis said he didn’t see that as a result of a disinterest in football as a sport as much as the style and presentation of the game. He’s hoping the Baltimore addition spurs further expansion in the area.
“There’s a team in Philadelphia. Maybe we can get someone in Newark next to put their hand up and have like an Acela division. I think it would be good for all of those cities and towns, good for the cities, good for the fans.”
Leonsis downplayed his recent remarks.
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to scare anybody,” he said. “We love Washington D.C. We have a great mutual respect for our city, and we have a 99-year lease on the land. … We’re very, very committed to Washington, D.C.”
He didn’t rule out a potential future move within the District to a new home for his MSE properties, though.
“We’d have to wait and see, and that’s honestly what I was trying to communicate,” Leonsis said. “Is Verizon Center, where it’s located today, the best use of that land? I mean, I think the city and we can talk about that five years from now.”
Leonsis also discussed the progress on the Entertainment & Sports Arena, and suggested that he would like to add an NBA D-League franchise to that building as well, saying he was hopeful the structure would be up and running two seasons from now.
Despite an offseason in which they missed out on homegrown superstar Kevin Durant and the Wizards’ slow start to the season, Leonsis remained optimistic about both his new head coach as well as the team in general.
“Scott’s a players’ coach. He’s upbeat, he’s not down, he’s optimistic,” Leonsis said. “He’s been given all new tools, new players.”
Leonsis cited early injuries as part of the issue and downplayed reports of discord between the team’s two young star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“I do think people have overreacted to ‘a rift,’ ” he said. “I’ve heard Bradley Beal refer to John as his big brother.”
When asked about longtime Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld, whose contract expires at the end of the season, Leonsis was supportive but measured.
“I have confidence in everyone who works for me, but we have to be accountable,” he said.
As for the Capitals — who have made the playoffs eight of the last nine years, but have not reached a conference finals during that span — Leonsis remained optimistic.
“All I can do as an owner is put us in position year after year to be competitive,” he said. “You just have to believe organizationally, with the players that we have, one of these years it goes our way.”