Washington Mystics and Monumental Sports’ Ted Leonsis has been in the news a good bit for a good time recently. One of Leonsis’ most recent moves involved the rebranding of NBC Sports Washington into Monumental Sports Network given Leonsis bought the regional sports channel that used to be under NBC’s umbrella.
Now, he is front and center in Washington, D.C.’s headlines for an entirely different reason – for something a lot more controversial than a television channel.
There is a proposal for Leonsis in tandem with Virginia’s governor to build a new sports complex in Potomac Yards. The plan would see both the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals to move to the new location.
For those that may not know – or may not have seen what Leonsis’ plans resemble, Potomac Yards is adjacent to the Potomac River and is dangerously close to one of D.C.’s major airports.
As of this writing, the Wizards and Capitals both play in the downtown area of Washington, D.C. The move is slated to take place in 2028, so there is plenty of time for D.C. sports fans to prepare for a potential new reality prior to then.
Of course, when we heard about this, our immediate thoughts was what would happen with the Mystics – the WNBA franchise under the Monumental umbrella.
According to a press release, the plan is for the Mystics to move back to Capital One Arena and for the Capital City Go Go – Monumental’s G-League franchise – to remain at the D.C. Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The Mystics have called D.C. Entertainment and Sports Arena its home court since 2019. Wasn’t there something else significant that happened that year involving the team? Oh yeah, that’s right…it was the season where Washington won its first-ever WNBA championship.
D.C. is the most powerful city in the world. Around the timeframe of Elena Delle Donne and her Mystics winning the 2019 WNBA championship, it was also the most powerful city in the sports world as the District also added a Caps Stanley Cup and a Washington Nationals World Series championship to the city’s trophy case.
The Mystics prevailed in a thrilling 5-game Finals over the Connecticut Sun in 2019 to claim the W’s most prestigious of prizes. It was also a much-needed relief from when the Mystics were in the Finals the previous season against the Seattle Storm and had to play its lone home game (Game 3) at George Mason in Virginia’s Fairfax County. Washington was swept that year by Seattle.
When we first saw that Kareem Copeland (Washington Post) tweet, our brains immediately asked if this sounded like a net positive or a net negative for the team. On one hand, it does give the Mystics its own arena – and a larger venue befitting of some of the most elite professional women’s basketball players on the planet.
On the other, it may cause some consternation among some Mystics fans who have become used to watching Washington’s contests at the D.C. Entertainment and Sports Arena. The ‘Stics current home is located in the Congress Heights neighborhood of D.C. – a part of the District with a very large Black population.
Of course, the ESA is much smaller than Capital One Arena, meaning it is easier for Mystics fans to fill that arena instead of the one in downtown D.C. Smaller venues can provide for a more intimate atmosphere and a more raucous one given the overall attendance.
There can be smaller venues that may be just right – then there can be too small and too far removed from the city center. This was the case for the New York Liberty for the two seasons (2018 and 2019) that the Westchester County Center was its home court.
There have been examples of where smaller venues have actually benefitted WNBA teams. One can be the Atlanta Dream who moved from State Farm Arena to Gateway Center Arena in the College Park area adjacent to its airport. The Dream, a team on the rise, have had no problems filling Gateway Center Arena and it has led to a better overall game experience.
The same is true for the Dallas Wings, who also play in a “College Park,” – the College Park Center that is at the University of Texas at Arlington. The Wings are another team that is on the rise as they were WNBA semifinalists last season in Latricia Trammell’s first season as head coach.
Even for teams that do play in larger NBA venues – such as the case with the Liberty – they are notorious for tarping off the upper bowls of seats. It took New York getting to the Finals for the Liberty to finally open up the Barclays Center upper bowl – where they drew over 17,000 for both Finals games that were in Brooklyn.
Moving the Mystics back to Capital One Arena full time seems like a bone Leonsis is attempting to throw at businesses in the Chinatown neighborhood (where the venue is based) who are a bit peeved at the Wizards and Capitals potentially bolting for Alexandria. Leonsis is also likely to convince those businesses that the loss of Wizards and Capitals business will be offset potentially by the venue being available for more concert dates during the winter and spring.
How those businesses continue to react to what will surely be a fluid story is yet to be seen. Plenty of residents who call D.C. proper home are already taking to social media and lamenting how much of a gut punch it is to Washington. And who knows how Virginia residents will respond to the idea of its tax dollars going to fund an entertainment district for teams whose owner is worth nearly $3 billion per Forbes.
The Virginia Senate has already approved the plan. Now it is up to the Virginia House of Delegates, which Democrats won back in last month’s statewide elections.
Monumental Sports is not the first entity to get flirtatious with the Commonwealth. The Washington Commanders floated plans to build a stadium in Woodbridge – a part of the DMV not exactly accessible by D.C.’s transit network before those aspirations quickly fell through. And there is lots of criticism for D.C.’s mayor Muriel Bowser for her dealings with the area’s sports owners.
The reaction of Mystics fans will be an interesting one to observe as this story develops. Will they continue to vote nay to Capital One Arena or will those votes remain yeas? Developing…