Verizon Center facade to get new digital, billboard-size signs


A computer rendering of the Verizon Center as it will look with 1,200-square-foot LED signs affixed to the outside. (Courtesy of Monumental Sports)

A pair of controversial, billboard-size digital signs will grace the facade of Verizon Center by summer, generating millions in new revenue for the Ted Leonsis-led group that owns the arena and its two tenants, the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals.

The signs, which had drawn public opposition because of their size and bright lights, overcame their final hurdle this week when they received permit approval from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Leonsis had fought a two-year battle to get the city’s approval for the project. The team owner, who has not been shy about touting the economic ripple effect the arena creates for the neighborhood, is seeking more revenue streams for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the holding company for the building and teams.

The company also recently launched a Web site with team blogs, videos and other content as a prelude to creating its own regional sports cable network.

“The digital signs will also help us spotlight some of our . . . content,” said Monumental Vice Chairman Raul Fernandez.

The Wizards and Capitals, both of which have underperformed this season, each lose around $5 million a year.

David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said an owner saddled with underperforming teams is under greater pressure to find income sources.

“Given how competitive the other teams in town are likely to be, it places an added burden whenever possible when your teams are not doing well,” Carter said.

Unlike many stadiums and arenas, including Nationals Park, Leonsis’s Verizon Center was privately built with little taxpayer assistance. The late sports entrepreneur Abe Pollin opened the facility in 1997.

Because Verizon Center is in one of the most vibrant parts of the District, with thousands of pedestrians and tourists daily, the two major signs — 23 by 45 feet each — should generate significant income from companies seeking exposure.

The signs cost between $4 million and $6 million and are expected to recoup that outlay in the first 12 months, according to team sources.

One will be on Seventh Street NW, replacing the existing Geico sign and some wall hangings. Another sign will wrap around the corner of the building at Seventh and F streets. The company plans to install several more signs, including at least one above the Gallery Place Metro entrance, replacing another, older sign.

Leonsis compromised on key issues, such as turning the signs off at midnight, reducing the light intensity and agreeing not to allow tobacco advertising or political ads.

The sign panels are under construction by China-based Sansi and are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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