The Buzz: Sinking Wizards, rising ticket sales

March 18, 2011

Looking for some good news from the Ted Leonsis majority-owned Washington Wizards, part of his Monumental Sports & Entertainment conglomerate?

The team, which has one of the poorest records in the NBA, added nearly 2,400 new season ticketholders this season, says Greg Bibb, the executive vice president for business operations.

The Wizards are on track to do about $30 million in ticket sales for the 2010-2011 season, up from $23 million last season, according to sources with the team who were not authorized to comment publicly.

Don't launch the celebratory fireworks yet because there was no where to go but up. The Wizards started the season with a woeful season ticket base of 4,288. But now it's up to 6,011 full-season tickets, not including the partial plans and suites.

The team has a plan to push that number to 10,000 within three years.

The Verizon Center seats 20,278 for basketball, Bibb said. Average per game attendance is 16,534, a slight tick up over last year's 16,284 through 35 games.

Bibb credits Jim Van Stone, Monumental's senior vice president for ticket sales, for mining databases and coming up with town hall meetings and ticket plans that cater to VIPs, families and students. The costs range anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000 per seat, per season.

Even Bibb admits the sales were “all low-hanging fruit” thanks to a good local fan base that needs some inducements.

In other Wiz business news, look for the team to “rebrand” itself with its red-white-and-blue color scheme sometime around the NBA draft lottery in May.

Buzz prediction: out with the Wizards logo, in with lots of colors.

A nearly 50 percent jump in year-over-year revenue in the first six weeks of 2011 has the Midtown Group, a D.C.-based career-consulting firm, thinking it will double its workforce to 40 this year.

Founded by Helen Stefan Moreau, Midtown Group manages 150 to 250 temporary workers at any given time. Moreau's company has its D.C. offices on Seventh Street NW and another branch in Chicago.

The new hires will fill posts in business development, recruitment and elsewhere in administration.

The company already hired a new vice president of business operations, and it has an immediate need for five employees, at a minimum.

“We had an 80 percent decrease in the legal market two years ago, and that has been surging back,” said Stefan Moreau. “The federal and [information technology] markets are also seeing a lot of strength.”

The Buzz hears . . .

Atlanta-based Fresh to Order - also known as f20 - is looking to plant up to 11 restaurants in Arlington, Alexandria and the District between now and 2014.

The company, with six restaurants, just launched a franchising program last year. The menu includes salads, panini sandwiches and “long plate” fresh entrees for under $10 in less than 10 minutes.

“Washington, D.C. is our top priority for growth as we expand from our home base,” said owner Pierre Panos in an e-mail to The Buzz.

Former “George Michael Sports Machine” producer Joe Schreiber is working with the National Science Foundation to offer media training to scientists. Schreiber runs his own production company, called Mattmar Productions. NSF public affairs chief Jeff Nesbit, a former White House communications director, reached out to Schreiber.

American University's Athletic Department launches its first app with XCO SportsLink, the McLean-based, smartphone software development company. The technology will work on the iPhone, Android and upcoming BlackBerry. Live radio broadcasts from WTOP/WFED, new video features and social media connections are also included for the school's sports fans.

The start-up hub of D.C.?

The Knowland Group, which helps the hospitality industry book meetings and conventions, is moving from McLean to downtown Washington.

The six-year-old business intelligence firm founded by Michael McKean is taking 5,000 square feet at 623 H St. NW in Chinatown, across from Gallery Place, by the end of the month.

The office, designed by Wingate Hughes Architects, has loft-style windows and exposed brick interiors. The space will house around 40 employees in Knowland's communications, marketing and enterprise sales teams.

McKean called the area “ground zero” for marketing and communications professionals and a hub for start-ups such as Blackboard, Blue State Digital and LivingSocial.

“That intersection is the Times Square of D.C.,” McKean said of his new location. “We will have a lot of brand equity by having our logo across from Gallery Place. As many as 40,000 sets of eyeballs a day will see our brand.”

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