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Editor's note: Team owners feel liberated by new media

By ,

For a local sports junkie, last week offered a treat.

Sitting together on a single stage Tuesday were the owners of Washington's major sports franchises: the Redskins' Dan Snyder; Caps, Wizards and Mystics boss Ted Leonsis; D.C. United chief Will Chang; and two members of the Lerner family, Robert Tanenbaum and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, representing the Nationals.

The pooh-bahs had come to talk about their very public businesses, as part of a Washington Post conference sponsored by Capital Business.

Each spoke earnestly of a desire to bring the region a champion, and the fan in me wished them well.

But I was also intrigued by their views on business in the Internet age.

Chang said franchises were once at the mercy of big media, which controlled the channels fans used to follow their teams. These days that power has shifted to the "content providers," the teams themselves, which now have alternative means of reaching their customers.

Among local team owners, Leonsis is best known for exploiting those alternative channels, as he blogs and tweets his way to the top of Google results.

"I think this new media is like oxygen. Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what you would write. Now, I don't care."

Well, he might care a little, but I get his point.

Social media, though, have their limitations.

"I want to do a shout-out for reality," Robert Tanenbaum said. "I want to do a shout-out for coming to a baseball game, and looking at that green field glowing, and feeling the sun on your shoulders or your face. You're there with your son or your daughter or your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend, and you're eating popcorn and Cracker Jacks and all this [junk food]. And there are things that you don't get online. You're having a conversation with the person next door to you that you may not know, you're being welcomed with a hug by one of our ushers -- who are probably some of the nicest people in the world -- and you're sharing something that's in the air, not on a screen, not through your thumbs. You're living life. And that's what all this coverage is about. It flows from the real experience, and the real experience is a fan experience of bringing your family to a game."

Bridging the online and the offline, the virtual world and the real one, is a preoccupation of many a business.

Last week's conference offered a reminder of how important it is to play on all fields.

© The Washington Post Company