Washington Capitals, Wizards head out of D.C. for Virginia

An artist’s rendering of the new Alexandria Entertainment District, which houses a new arena for the Washington Capitals and Wizards.

The NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals are on the move after owner Ted Leonsis announced Wednesday he was moving the teams out of Capital One Arena in downtown Washington D.C. come 2028 and to a new $10 billion sports and entertainment complex in nearby Alexandria, Va. known as Potomac Yard.

“We are committed to providing world-class fan experiences while continuously evolving our teams, deepening community ties, and solidifying our role as leaders at the forefront of sports and technology,” said Leonsis, who appeared at a press conference to announce the project with Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. “The opportunity to expand to this 70-acre site in Virginia, neighboring industry-leading innovators, and a great academic partner, would enable us to further our creativity and achieve next-generation, leading work – all while keeping our fans and the community at the forefront of everything we do.”

Lenosis is also owner of the regional sports network Monumental Sports & Entertainment, who prominently features both teams and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, who’ll remain at Capital One. Once known as Home Team Sports, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, and NBC Sports Washington, the RSN will have an on-campus production facility and studio, not to mention restaurants, hotels, a modern practice facility for the Wizards, and other amenities.

Playing in Landover, Md.’s Capital Centre since the mid-1970s, both teams moved to D.C. proper in 1997 to play in what was then known as MCI Center. The move was a boon for area bars and restaurants, who financially benefitted from the games and concerts taking place in the arena.

But the area has struggled to bounce back after the pandemic, as those businesses’ finances dried up from the Covid-19 related closures. Another issue is the surge in crime in the area, which is an issue in basically every city, Chicago included. Not surprisingly, the move was lauded by conservatives, who often criticize Democrat mayors for their soft approach on crime, who in this case is Muriel Browser. Despite the rhetoric, Washington D.C.’s homicide rate is still lower than it was in the late 1980s, when the crack epidemic plagued the city and was receiving tons of negative national press, with D.C.’s homicide count in 1988 nearly matching Chicago’s.

Mascots for the Washington Capitals, left, and Wizards, surprise a biker on the Mall as the duo was being filmed. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In July 2021, a shooting happened just outside the ballpark where MLB’s Washington Nationals play, during a game. Two more shootings took place last year near the same ballpark, located in the city’s NavyYard area, with the one in October resulting in a death.

The reaction from city residents and Marylanders were different – many blasted the move, including PTI hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, both former columnists with the Washington Post and anchor the show from Washington D.C. The city is hoping to keep the teams at Capital One with a planned $500 million renovation package, but it is unlikely to sway Leonsis.

Washington is the country’s seventh-largest TV market and eighth-largest radio market, encompassing an area known as the “DMV”, standing for District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The area is one of the largest Black DMAs in the country, with 24.7 percent being being African-American with a large portion residing in suburban Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Md., where the NFL’s Commanders play, in Landover.

In the District, or Washington proper, the Black population makes up 45 percent, compared to 21.6 percent of Alexandria’s residents.

The move is a replay of what we saw in the 1960s and 1970s as residents were moving out to the suburbs from the cities to raise families as the post-war boom and the rise of the shopping mall attests. In the 1990s and 2000s, residents started flocking back to city centers as the Lions returned to Detroit in 2002 to play downtown at Ford Field and the Cleveland Cavaliers moved downtown to play at Gund Arena in 1995 from suburban Richfield, Oh. Chicago’s United Center opened in 1994, across the street from the old Chicago Stadium and remains a successful venue to this day.

Both Washington teams called the Capital Centre home in Landover until 1997; the same year, the Washington NFL team (now known as the Commanders) relocated from RFK Stadium and moved into a new stadium nearby. The Commanders are also looking for a new home, as FedEx Field is having numerous issues – not to mention the neighborhood surrounding the stadium is also suffering from the same crime issues Washington D.C. is – something those who support the Capitals/Wizards move aren’t bringing up.

It’s the same issues we’re seeing in Chicago as the future of both the Bears and the White Sox are in question. The Bears long had problems with Soldier Field and looking to build a new stadium in Arlington Heights, but has since starting looking at other locales – including within the city of Chicago itself as the move to Arlington Heights is questionable given the city’s school district is opposed to the move, fearing it would siphon tax money off. The White Sox meanwhile, could also look for a new home after their Guaranteed Rate Field lease expires in 2029. And yes, crime’s been an issue here as well. 

While the Capitals draw well in Washington with a Stanley Cup Championship in 2018, the Wizards’ poor play over the years haven’t packed the arena. So far this season, the team has the second-worst record in the NBA with at 3-20 and hasn’t won a title since 1978 when they were known as the Washington Bullets – one of the longest droughts in the NBA. Unless the Commanders return to the District, The Nationals – who moved to D.C. in 2005 from Montreal as the Expos after 33 years without an MLB team – would be the only team left in the city proper.

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