Ted Leonsis reaches deal to buy Washington Wizards from Pollin family

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has reached a deal to buy the Pollin family's majority share of the Washington Wizards and Verizon Center, and will push to get the paperwork finalized before the June 24 NBA draft.
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Pollin family Tuesday said it has reached a deal to sell its majority share of the Washington Wizards and Verizon Center to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, giving the former AOL mogul control over one of the few trifectas in sports: two major franchises and their home arena.

The sale allows Leonsis and his closely-held ownership group a chance to remake the ailing Wizards and to put an end to years of apparent financial losses incurred by the Capitals, who face a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Leonsis and his group, Lincoln Holdings, are likely to energize the culture at Washington Sports & Entertainment, the sports empire cobbled together by Abe Pollin. Pollin, who suffered from a debilitating illness that lasted several years, died Nov. 24 at age 85.

Leonsis, 53, is a rarity among sports owners: He is visible and accessible to fans and the public, publishes a blog called Ted's Take, regularly appears on television and quickly responds to e-mails. He most recently has been promoting his book, "The Business of Happiness."

Sources said Leonsis will push to get the paperwork finalized before the June 24 NBA draft so the new owners can have input in new player selection. Leonsis would like to act quickly to lay the groundwork for what could likely be a years-long campaign to rebuild the basketball franchise, which has won only 19 and 26 games in the past two 82-game seasons. One of his first decisions will be whether to keep Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld.

It took Leonsis 10 years and many mistakes to turn the Capitals into one of the best teams in the NHL, led by two-time league most-valuable-player Alex Ovechkin. Being Pollin's junior owner of the Wizards for 11 years may make it easier to reset the basketball team.

"He is perhaps uniquely capable of immediately recharging and redirecting the Wizards in a much faster time frame than he had with the Caps," said John Moag, chairman of Moag and Company, a Baltimore sports investment banking firm.

Family spokesman Robert Pollin, who announced the deal in a statement on Tuesday, said in an interview that he expects the sides to officially sign a purchase agreement in a week and transfer ownership in a month to six weeks, after the financing for the deal is in place.

"When we actually sign everything, then we will have a more formal statement," said Pollin, who has served as chief executive of Washington Sports & Entertainment since Abe Pollin's death.

"What we really wanted today is to say we have basically reached an agreement with Ted," Pollin said. "I wanted to get it out to our employees. We just wanted to get it all out so we can plan for a transition that would be smooth, and for the employees to understand where we are."

A spokesman for Lincoln Holdings said the statement speaks for itself.

Tim Frank, a spokesman for the NBA, said in a statement that the league had been notified of the agreement and will begin its review of the sale. "There is no timetable on the process at this point," he said.

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