Twenty-six long-term front-office employees of Washington Sports and Entertainment, including at least five senior managers at the level of vice president and above, have accepted buyout offers from Chairman Abe Pollin.
The buyout overtures were made in August to about three dozen senior staff members with at least 20 years of service in Pollin's organization, which owns MCI Center and the Washington Wizards, runs the Washington Mystics and until recently owned the Washington Capitals.
Last Friday was the final day that employees could rescind their decision to accept the buyout, which includes 18 months of salary ($150,000 or more in some cases for senior managers) and full benefits.
For some, like senior vice president for finance Ed Seltzer, who turns 65 next month, the timing was perfect. "My paycheck will be direct deposited every two weeks," he said. "Everything I have today continues for 18 months as if I'm still in the company, except I don't have to go to work." He said he retains his insurance, medical benefits and Wizards season tickets.
Spokesman Matt Williams said the number of eligible employees accepting the buyout did not surprise the company, "considering as generous an offer as it was and that you don't see an offer like this in the industry very often, if ever."
Williams said the buyouts were spread through the organization, which has about 400 full-time employees. But he declined to provide a list of the employees who either accepted or rejected the buyout.
Williams also declined to place a dollar value on the cost of the buyouts. He also said that officials are completing an evaluation to determine whether the slots will be filled or the duties will be absorbed by other employees. However, some staff members who worked for the Capitals will be replaced by staffers hired by new owner Ted Leonsis.
Among other senior front-office officials accepting buyouts, according to sources familiar with the situation, are president of special projects Barry Silberman, group sales vice president Sam Oidick, events vice president Pat Darr, senior vice president of retail and special events Bob Zurfluh and sales executive Steve Hines. Several top administrative aides also took the buyouts, including Rosemary Donohue, who has served every basketball general manager since the team moved to Washington, and Sharon Sylvester, who works for Pollin.
Sources said those rejecting the buyout included facilities operations vice president Gary Handleman, MCI arena director Bill Harpole and security director Earl Pippins.
Washington Sports and Entertainment has expanded significantly since 1973, when Pollin moved the Baltimore Bullets to Landover and opened Capital Centre (now USAirways Arena). The company also manages the Baltimore-Washington franchise of Ticketmaster, a ticket distribution company.
Last May, Pollin, 75, announced he had agreed to sell the Capitals to a three-man investment group headed by America Online executive Leonsis. The group 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 was unavailable to comment yesterday, has 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 after the 2001 NBA All-Star Game that is expected to be awarded to MCI Center.