Ted Leonsis taking Washington Wizards in a new Direction



Ted Leonsis is the majority owner, chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, a group that on June 9, 2010 became owners of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL‘s Washington Capitals, WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the Verizon Center and the Baltimore-Washington Ticketmaster franchise.

Leonsis, a former vice-chairman at AOL and an internet marketing pioneer, also serves as chairman of SnagFilms, Clearspring Technologies, and Revolution Money. However, his most unique attribute is likely his “scorecard” of personal and professional life goals. He drew up the 101 item list at age 25 after surviving an airplane flight that nearly crashed. Since that day in 1983 he’s checked off 74 of those 101 items. (See the list here).

By Paul M. Banks

And now his next item is turning around D.C.’s NBA team, who haven’t won 50 games in a season since 1979 or a playoff series since 2005. Leonsis, whose net worth is in the billions, was gracious enough to take time out of his very busy day to answer my questions about where the Wizards are going.

I first asked Leonsis about the challenges of being a sports franchise owner, and if there’s any difficulty in separating the “being a fan” from being an owner.

“I think it would have been had I not owned the Caps first,” Leonsis responded. “But I learned a lot of valuable lessons: let the professionals do their job; and I set strategy and culture and budget.”

In our social media age, the term “Web 3.0” is part of most people’s lexicon. So it’s pretty common to hear that term being thrown around. But when Leonsis, an internet business pioneer, uses the term it takes on another level.

“The Wizards are in 3.0 re-boot mode. We’re unabashedly rebuilding the team and re-crafting the way we operate from a business standpoint. Because we have all new management with different experiences from Mr. Pollin, and all the great folks who owned and operated the team beforehand,” he said.

Leonsis is following in legendary footsteps. Pollin was the longest tenured owner (46 years) in NBA history, and a beloved figure in the D.C. area. He even had a service award named after him.

As Leonsis begins a new era in Wizards basketball, he (along with every other NBA owner) must face a very severe threat–a possible 2011 lockout. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement must be re-negotiated at the conclusion of this upcoming season, and it looks like things could get ugly when those meetings occur. I asked him if it’s affected the way business was conducted this off-season.

“I’m totally focused on what I have to do with our team this coming season, and I have not thought about or have I been involved with the new CBA,” he said. “And I won’t comment on it. It’s totally up to the league.”

So while there may be dissension between NBA players and league ownership, Leonsis explained that the Wizards’ front office is currently in harmony.

I brought up the experience and knowledge of Head Coach Flip Saunders, who took over the team in April of 2009.

“Very impressed with him, very astute and talented, and able to build a team with the system that he likes to play with,” Saunders says. “I think the coach, the general manager {Ernie Grunfeld, whose been with the Wizards since 2003} and the owner are all in alignment.”

“And I think that’s a good first step towards building a very good franchise and team.”

Last year, Forbes.com rated the Wizards as the 19th (out of 30) most valuable NBA franchise with a valuation of $313 million. With Leonsis now at the helm, expect to see that ranking increase substantially next year.

For part two if this interview which discusses the Wizards roster, and on-the court issues, check back here tomorrow.

Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

Photo credit: Children’s National Medical Center

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