For frustrated Washington sports fans who haven’t experienced a championship by one of the city’s professional sports franchises in two decades, an end to the long drought may be in sight, Washington Capitals principal owner Ted Leonsis told a National Press Club Luncheon July 13.
Although he stopped short of predicting a championship next season, “our belief is that if we continue to make the playoffs, one of these days it’ll be us” who wins the Stanley Cup, hockey’s ultimate prize, Leonsis said.
In each of the last two seasons, the Capitals made the National Hockey League playoffs but were eliminated early despite winning division titles.
“We’ll get there one day," he said.
Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Wizards and Mystics professional basketball teams, in his third Club appearance devoted most of his remarks to the Capitals. He rejected questions about the Wizards, which he acquired only in recent months, because of an NBA ban on owners discussing their teams during the league’s current labor negotiations with the player’s union.
In his only comment about the Wizards, he said his strategy for reversing its recent struggles is the same as is with the Capitals: “Hoard young draft picks and prospects.”
As for the Capitals, “we’re not happy we haven’t had playoff success,” Leonsis said. But he expressed optimism over the future because of the team’s influx of talented young players, who are gaining experience together. Recent acquisitions of five free agents, he said, bolster the outlook for next year.
In his formal remarks, Leonsis emphasized the importance of sports teams as one of five institutions, including universities, public space, iconic real estate and media, “ that define what a city is about.”
“If we can one day win a championship, we can bring the community together. It is a huge responsibility that I really take seriously," he said.
Leonsis, a former 13-year senior executive at AOL, opened his remarks by urging journalists not to be discouraged by criticism, contraction and negative headlines. At a moment in history when local, mobile, social and real-time media are attracting venture capital, “it is an interesting time to be in the media,” he stressed. “This is the greatest time to be in the industry in which you are participating.”
An active blogger and e-mail correspondent with fans, Leonsis noted to journalists that “I am now part of what you do – we are in it [the media world] together.”
OUR ADDITION: He also commented on key factors, such as public space, media (Washington Post and New York Times, e.g.) and sports teams that are vital to great cities, such as Washington and New York.
In his best-selling book, The Business of Happiness (about which he spoke to Wharton Club members), Leonsis commented on the importance of having a "bucket list," 100 goals to achieve before you die. He has achieved most of his list, and indicated that he checked off one more item by attending the latest Winter Olympics.
Near the end of the luncheon, the Press Club President, Mark Hamrick, gave him the traditional gift, a National Press Club mug. To a huge round of laughter, Ted quipped, "Not the cup I was hoping for."