Washington Sports and Entertainment Chairman Abe Pollin has offered buyouts to approximately 37 front-office employees with 20 or more years of service with the organization that owns MCI Center and the NBA Wizards, runs the WNBA Mystics and until recently owned the NHL Capitals.
Susan O'Malley, the president of Washington Sports, confirmed the offer and said any of the affected employees would have the option to "reject" the proposal and continue to work for the company.
All of the affected employees are being offered a lump sum of 18 months' salary -- more than $150,000 for some senior managers -- and have until Sept. 24 to accept or reject the offer, sources said. Many of these employees also have earned pensions from Pollin's company.
About 400 people work for Washington Sports, which has expanded significantly since 1973, when Pollin moved the Baltimore Bullets to Landover and opened Capital Centre. The company also runs other area arenas, and TicketMaster, a ticket distribution company.
Last May, Pollin, 75, sold the Capitals to a three-man investment group headed by America Online executive Ted Leonsis. The group, which includes D.C. businessman Jonathan Ledecky and Capitals President Dick Patrick, invested $200 million, of which $85 million went for the Capitals and the rest for a minority share of WSE and the right of first refusal when Pollin decides to sell the rest of his sports holdings, worth approximately $500 million, according to sports business sources.
Pollin, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has previously said he would like to retain the Wizards and MCI Center at least until he can reverse the declining on-court fortunes of the Wizards. But sources close to the situation said Pollin could decide to sell his interest to the Leonsis group within a year or two while still remaining involved in a lesser capacity.
Leonsis, who also was not available to comment yesterday, has said he planned to operate and market the Capitals separate from WSE and be more aggressive than the former ownership. Sources close to Pollin said the buyouts were not related to the Leonsis-Ledecky-Patrick investment and involvement in WSE, but as the new group becomes more active, additional personnel changes likely will occur.
O'Malley and Human Resource Manager Mary Davis met with the affected members of the staff last Thursday to discuss the proposal, sources said.
"This is standard Abe Pollin," said O'Malley of the proposed buyout. "It's a chance to reward the people who have been with him since he started the business. They've all been with him a long time, worked very hard and he feels very close to them. He wants very much for them to share in his success."
Among senior front-office officials offered buyouts, according to sources, are MCI arena operations director Bill Harpole, public relations executive Bob Zurfluh, MCI Center manager Gary Handleman, sales executive Steve Hines, arena staffer Nancy Lacy and financial officer Ed Stelzer.
The employees were asked by O'Malley not to comment on the matter, one of them said yesterday.
O'Malley stressed the fact no one will be forced to accept the buyout. And recently Leonsis told friends Pollin told him if Leonsis wanted to make changes that resulted in longtime Pollin employees losing their jobs, Leonsis should retain those employees and deduct their salaries from Leonsis's purchase price.