Ted Leonsis once again raised the possibility this week of eventually broadcasting Caps and Wizards games on Monumental Network when his deals with Comcast SportsNet expire.
For more than a year, Leonsis has suggested that a fully realized Monumental Network could one day broadcast Caps and Wizards games, in addition to other local programming. If, you know, an acceptable deal with Comcast SportsNet could not be reached. Hint, hint.
Sports Business Journal reported last month that Leonsis had already begun negotiations with Comcast SportsNet about an extension of the Caps’ broadcast deal, which runs through the 2016-17 season, according to SBJ. The Wizards’ deal runs through 2020-2021, according to SBJ, and John Ourand speculated that an early extension for the Caps could help increase Leonsis’s leverage:
The Capitals currently make around $13 million per year from Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, sources said, and the Wizards pull down around $17 million, a figure that does not include an upfront payment that Comcast made when the deal was signed with former owner Abe Pollin. To date, Comcast SportsNet has resisted opening its Wizards contract, which sources say has terms that are favorable to the RSN….
The move to try to sync up the rights also fits in with Leonsis’ strategy around his digital channel, Monumental Network. Leonsis has not been shy about his desire to build Monumental Network into a service that potentially could house his teams’ rights. Leonsis’ threat of putting his teams’ rights on a platform that he owns carries more weight if both teams’ rights expire at the same time.
Whether or not that threat is viable, Leonsis returned to it on Tuesday during an Ask the Owner appearance on WTOP. Host Bruce Alan asked Leonsis whether Monumental Network could one day be its own cable channel; the owner said he hoped so.
Leonsis then said Monumental Sports is still not profitable, thanks to high player salaries, the mortgage and principal (plus maintenance costs) paid for Verizon Center, and the two broadcast deals.
“We have very, very low compensation for our cable rights,” Leonsis said. “And that’s our deal, that we’re living with. But at some point, those rights will revert back to us. And when you look around, there’s a lot of value in owning your own network, or owning equity in the network. I just served as chairman of the NBA media committee, and I saw how ESPN and Turner valued the rights to NBA games, and it was a big number up. They’re very very smart people, and they valued it from research, because live sports and news are really the only two parts of programming that bring people together live in big numbers.
“And so we know that sports programming is very very valuable,” Leonsis said. “So what we have to do is optimize all of our media assets. And we love the people at Comcast — I’m hoping we can do something with them — but if we can’t, there’s [the MASN example]. MASN is an independent network owned by the Orioles and the Nationals, and they got onto cable.
“And so we [also] launched the Monumental Network. Today it’s what’s called an over-the-top network. We do lots of video, lots of programming, we’ve built a studio, we’ve hired 30 people. We know how to broadcast games — we’re doing Mystics games, we’re doing Caps preseason games, we’re doing coaches shows, we’re doing 20, 30 hours a week in video. I’m very proud of the work that we’re doing to be ready for one day if our rights burn off.
“And when our rights burn off, we want to work with Comcast. But if we can’t, then we launch the Monumental Network. It’s pretty simple.”
Then Alan asked whether Monumental could theoretically be a home for Nats broadcasts.
“Well I think first we’d want to do the Caps, and then you’d want to do the Wizards and the Mystics,” Leonsis said “And the name of our holding company is Monumental Sports and Entertainment. ESPN was sports and entertainment. And I believe that it should be broader than just a regional sports network. I think that music and concerts and where to dine and all of that information would make a lot of sense in both a digital and a cable format.”
Leonsis said attendance for the Wizards is “very good” and “growing,” adding that 100-level seats are “pretty much sold out.”
“We have about 11,000, 11,500 season ticket holders now, which is very very good growth for us,” he said. “And my bet is we have a really good year, we’ll go into next offseason, have 90-percent-plus renewals, and then we’ll start to sell it out.”
[The headline on this item has been changed for accuracy.]