There was extensive media coverage of the hearing, starting with The Post’s Mike DeBonis, whose story began like so:
Sports mogul Ted Leonsis sees signs that his Washington Capitals, Mystics and Wizards could soon become more competitive. That is, if the D.C. Council approves his signs.
Leonsis appeared before a council panel Wednesday to stump for legislation that would allow his Monumental Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Verizon Center, to erect as many as nine animated digital billboards on the arena’s facade. The signs, he said, would mean tax income for the city and valuable revenue for his company.
“Our goal is to be perennial playoff teams and play for championships,” he said. “Frankly, that costs a lot of money.”
“This is a case where we have to pay the banks first for that building, and then whatever’s left we can use it to improve the building and pay for the team,” Leonsis continued. “And that $8-to-$10 million [cost] is a lot of money for a team that spends $50 million a year in payroll.”
Because I have serious life issues, I spent part of my Wednesday night watching a stream of the 3-hour and 21-minute hearing online; you can find it here. And as long as I watched it, I might as well pull out a few moments for the betterment of your life.
Of primary interest to D.C. sports fans, perhaps, were Ted Leonsis’s opening comments, which included this passage
“It’s important to note that, unlike most major cities, the Verizon Center (or the MCI Center as it was then known) was built almost entirely with private funds. Today, nearly 15 years after the Verizon Center opened, we carry more than $125 million of debt related to the construction of the facility. When you add this to the cost and expense of operating the facility, and our three teams, it’s a substantial financial burden.
“Quite frankly, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage with many other teams in the NHL, the NBA and the WNBA. We compete with teams in other large markets who do not have the burden of paying for their buildings, such as those buildings in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. That means we have less money to spend on our teams. Because of that, we work very hard to identify new sources of revenue, and one of those is the reason for my testimony today.”
A Season Ticket Holder
One Caps fan, who has a blog of his own, testified before the committee on behalf of the fans.
“So far no one has spoken for the lifeblood of the franchises that inhabit Verizon Center, and that is season ticket holders,” he began. “I’m a Washington Capitals season ticket holder, and I have been since 2005. When I first got my seats, my seats ran around $1,200. This season I’m gonna be paying about $2,000 for the same seat, and for the same team that’s, well, not been performing so well.
“And if the Verizon Center can make an extra $4 or $5 million on advertising on the outside, that’s another $4 or $5 million that doesn’t have to come out of the season ticket holders. That’s another $4 or $5 million (divided [by three teams]) that doesn’t have to come out of my pocket....
“There’s nothing like the experience of being a season ticket holder, being there night in, night out, victory, defeat, what was he thinking, did you see that? But it’s getting to be extremely expensive for a lot of fans, because if the team keeps losing [money], where are they gonna go? Their first option is to raise ticket prices. It’s the only real source or revenue they can control.”
Eventually, the committee chair asked this Caps fan — who lives in Maryland — whether coming to the arena encourages him to spend money in the District.
“I will occasionally stop off at Starbucks at 7th and E, it’s 6 bucks for what I usually drink over there,” he said. “Eight shots of espresso on ice.”
“Whoa,” the chairwoman, Yvette Alexander, remarked.
“Hey, I’ve got to be loud and proud when I cheer on my Caps,” the fan said.
“That’s an exciting game, I can imagine, sitting next to you,” Alexander said.
“Oh yeah,” the fan agreed.
Council woman Muriel Bowser at one point talked about her love of the Caps.
“I love the Washington Capitals,” she said. “I don’t know the first thing about hockey, but I will tell you, I love the Washington Capitals.”
Building America’s Hockey Capital.
The longtime D.C. activist and sometimes candidate testified about something or other. Now, I should note that Leonsis prefaced his remarks by talking about his long and deep allegiance to the District, in heartfelt fashion.
“I fell in love with Washington, D.C., when I first came here in the ’70s to attend college, and I have deep roots here and a strong commitment to the city,” he said.
“If he really loved Washington, Chuck Brown’s funeral would have been in the Verizon Center, let’s be clear on that,” Moten later said, in as cheap of a cheap shot as I can imagine.
Before Moten left the stand, he added something else.
“Can I make one additional recommendation?” he said. “If for some reason Mr. Ted Leonsis receives some type of break on the Pepco prices, can the people of Ward 7 get a break?”
Obviously, this is worth 3 hours and 21 minutes of your time.