Local sports mogul Ted Leonsis is in the final stages of a media rights deal with Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic that, if concluded, could give his organization a one-third ownership in the regional sports network, which has carried his Wizards and Capitals games for years.
The outlines of the agreement, confirmed by people familiar with the negotiations, would provide Monumental Sports & Entertainment something Leonsis has wanted since investing in the sports properties and the Verizon Center more than 16 years ago: equity in a sports television network spanning Washington and Baltimore.
Just two years ago, when Leonsis formed Monumental Network, a digital site that carries his teams’ content, the former AOL executive spelled out his ultimate target
“The long-range goal is to own our own means of distribution,” Leonsis said at the time. “The most successful sports teams right now are successful because they own their own regional sports networks.”
The competition for live sports programming in the digital era has given professional teams an edge in negotiating new rights deals, with several other sports teams owning all or parts of regional sports networks, including baseball’s Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox and Cubs, to name a few.
Equity in regional sports networks gives teams a chance to own a growing business that it can sell either as part of, or separate from, the team.
It also adds another revenue stream from ads sold around college and minor league sports, feature shows and other programming.
In addition to the financial incentives, “ownership allows teams and ownership groups to control and manage any messaging necessary around the team,” said David M. Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
Through a spokesman, Leonsis declined to comment Monday. As chairman and largest shareholder in Monumental, he holds a strong hand in the negotiations with Comcast because his two professional teams are part of Comcast’s regional winter sports program. Those describing the tentative deal did so on the condition of anonymity because the terms are not yet final.
The NFL Washington Redskins are carried nationally.
Investment banker Steve Greenberg of Allen & Co., who is negotiating the Comcast deal for Monumental, declined comment.
The new deal was first reported by the Sports Business Journal. The agreement,which would extend Comcast’s current media deals with the two teams, would run through the 2031-32 seasons.
The Leonsis sports empire is one of the few that own both an arena and teams. The negotiations have become public at a time when sports rights deals have been making headlines in Washington.
A New York State Supreme Court judge recently tossed out a Major League Baseball arbitration decision that gave the Nationals millions more in annual broadcast rights fees, a significant victory for the Orioles-controlled network in the protracted dispute.
The immediate impact of the judge’s ruling means the Nationals will receive $40 million in annual TV rights fees from MASN per year, $20 million less than the amount awarded by the MLB panel.
MASN broadcasts both the Nationals and Orioles games but the Orioles have a controlling stake in the network as part of a 2005 agreement brokered by baseball and then-commissioner Bud Selig to allow the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington.