Wizards fans Anthony Fountain II, 9, of Bowie, and Daren Ramnarine, of Silver Spring, take in Game 4 of the Hawks series at Verizon Center. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Monumental Sports & Entertainment is beginning a search to replace Verizon as the title sponsor for its downtown arena when the telecommunications firm’s deal with the sports company expires in 2018.

A Monumental Sports official who requested anonymity confirmed Monday that the Ted Leonsis-led ownership group is soliciting offers from agencies that specialize in obtaining naming rights sponsors for sports stadiums and arenas.

The official said the ownership group has assumed for several years that it would need to find a new sponsor for the arena after the sunset of the original MCI/Verizon deal.

Naming rights have become an increasing vital and lucrative source of revenue for sports teams as players salaries and other expenses have increased.

A lucrative, long-term naming rights deal that brought in millions would increase the value of the privately owned Verizon Center and its tenants: the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics.

Verizon Center opened in December 1997 as MCI Center, but it changed to Verizon Center in 2006 after Verizon Communications purchased MCI out of bankruptcy.

— Thomas Heath