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Inside a billionaire pro sports owner’s lesson in local politics


One of the oldest slogans in politics is that “all politics is local.” You would be forgiven if you no longer believe this to be true over the past decade.

Thanks to social media, some communities have seen the national conversation create a local nightmare, as city councils and school boards become dysfunctional thanks to pointless national debates.

But the fact of the matter is that a mantra is a mantra for a reason – because it still rings true. Just ask Ted Leonsis, owner of the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals, and the WNBA’s Mystics in Washington, D.C.

In a wide-ranging conversation on my podcast, Chuck ToddCast, Leonsis delved with me into the lessons learned from his brief attempt to move his sports empire from downtown D.C. to Alexandria, Virginia, just 5 miles away — or so he first thought. The Potomac River may be a thin border between D.C. and Virginia, but it’s a big gap to cross in terms of perception.


This week on NBC News’ Chuck ToddCast, Ted Leonsis describes what he learned after trying to move the Washington Capitols and Wizards from Washington, D.C., to Virginia. Sign up for new episodes of Chuck ToddCast, every Wednesday and Friday Apple Podcast, Spotify Or wherever you get your podcasts.


“Well, you know, you’ve learned a lot, haven’t you?” Leonsis says. “I hope… I hope Mayor Bowser gives me the honorary title of Deputy Mayor of Downtown D.C. We were thinking about moving three and a half miles away. We weren’t going to Indiana in the middle of the night, were we? But I get it. I was wrong.”

Ultimately, the deal agreed upon by Leonsis and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to move the teams to Alexandria collapsed amid opposition from the Virginia legislature. After initially failing to reach an agreement, Leonsis and Bowser’s D.C. government reached their own agreement in March.

As a tech industry veteran, Leonsis was part of AOL early on, and he also shares his views on where the sports and media industries are headed.

He believes the size and power of the D.C. media market is far greater than the DMV or the Beltway. He sees the market moving from Richmond to Delaware.

“We have the opportunity to make DC one of the top four markets in North America,” Leonsis says, adding: “That’s why… we own the teams, the venues we play in, and now the network we play in.” on me. We are able to go direct to consumer, because that is what the future will be.

Leonsis also discusses his decision to seek investment from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. It distinguishes between minority investors, such as sovereign wealth funds, who are looking for a safe place to invest for the long term compared to the growing trend of hedge funds buying sports teams outright.

“I think private equity is a bigger problem than pension fund investing and SWFs because private equity wants out. They want some control,” says Leonsis. In his analysis, SWFs have no control or say.

Leonsis continues, “You’re an investor, not a partner. You don’t get any financial information. You meet with the owners once a year and the league once a year. We don’t list them. They’re investors. They don’t have any influence. They’re completely passive investors, which is “Good thing with them because pension funds look at SWFs with kind of the same dynamic… a safe haven over 50 years, 100 years, and they look at cyclicals as 100 years old, right?”

If you’re interested in the future of sports ownership, the future of sports media and the roles politicians and financiers will play in the future, be sure to listen to the entire conversation. We cover the area starting with a potential new local college hoops tournament in the DC area to looking for more ways to prevent top high school basketball players from leaving the DMV instead of attending George Washington University (my alma mater) or Georgetown (my alma mater) — or Maryland, George Mason, James Madison, etc.

You’ll also hear thoughts on whether the toxic nature of our national politics is hurting his ability to sign free agents to come play in Washington. And for the true DC Sports fan, make sure you don’t miss his thoughts on Alexander Ovechkin vs. Bradley Beal!



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