NBA, NHL Owner Ted Leonsis on the Role of Pro Teams, Leagues

November 15, 2010  • Institute Contributor

Given the potential benefits of playing sports, a major and coordinated national effort needs to be initiated to provide such opportunities to more children, NBA and NHL franchise owner Ted Leonsis told an Aspen Institute audience. He offered his perspective during a question-and-answer session Nov. 15 at a Washington Leadership Series event.

“There should be a Manhattan Project organized that finds the facts, and makes them self-evident, that a big part of a young adult development can be enhanced, as can success in life, through education and sports and fitness,” he said. “It’s the right thing for us as a country and as businesses to do.”

As founder and chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Leonsis is majority owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and WNBA Mystics. The former AOL executive also owns the Verizon Center, the Baltimore-Washington Ticketmaster franchise, and a company that distributes and helps find funding for documentaries.

Among his other comments:

–On growing across the street from a park as a boy, and how his friends who played sports fared better as adults than those who hung out on the park benches drinking and doing drugs: “If you walked 100 yards (toward the fields) and played football or baseball or basketball or street hockey, you went another way in your life. You could really go down the database of all of the kids, to see the importance of sports and competition.”

On the role of sports leagues and teams, who he says do “a lot of anecdotal stuff” to support grassroots sports but that more of a collective effort is needed: “The leagues are big businesses. The NFL is an $8 billion business, Major League Baseball $4 billion, the NHL $3 billion, the NBA $5 billion. There are enough assets there that we could do something good. But there needs to be more of an organizing principle.”

On what’s special about owning a professional sports franchise, versus helping build a major media company: “(AOL) changed my life and I’ll never for get that. But I know if we win Stanley Cup or NBA championship, that for the rest of my life I will have that bonding touch point with millions and millions of people. And that’s the thrill and the deep responsibility that comes with owning a team.”

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