05/03/2024

Illustration: Monumental Sports

ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke news Wednesday Morning (AEST) that the Governance and Ownership Groups for the Washington Wizards in the NBA, and the Washington Capitals in the NHL will be hosting a joint press conference Thursday Morning (AEST) to announce plans for a new arena complex in Alexandria, Virginia.

So what does this mean? Are the Washington Wizards moving to Virginia?

Well, it’s complicated.

As reported by The Washington Post earlier this week, State Lawmakers in Virginia approved a deal to bring a new arena to Potomac Yard to anchor further mixed-use development (the neighbourhood was also selected by Amazon in 2018 as the site for it’s second headquarters).

The plan is expected to be formally announced Thursday (AEST) by Virginia’s Governor Glenn Youngkin, with speculation from local news outlets that any new facility would likely be complete in 2028, after the lease on the land the Capital One Arena sits on can be broken by paying an optional, multi-million-dollar settlement in 2027. The Arena itself is currently owned by Monumental Sports (the organisation that owns the Wizards and seven other DC-based sports teams).

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Why the move?

In November of this year, Wizards Majority Owner Ted Leonsis requested $600 million US Dollars from the District of Columbia Government for a major refurbishment of the Capital One Arena in DC’s Chinatown district. The Arena, which also hosts the NHL’s Capitals, is in good condition following minor upgrades totalling $30 US Million in 2020; the stadium itself is just 26 years old.

Whilst D.C. officials have said publicly they’d like to support Leonsis to keep the team in the Chinatown district, there has been a wave of public scrutiny facing the contribution of public funds to build new stadiums in the U.S.; a current proposition is before the people of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to build a new basketball stadium downtown with $900 million of public funding.

Whether or not Leonsis and Monumental Sports intended to stay in D.C., they likely see long-term value in further developing the historic, and long vacant Potomac Yard neighbourhood in North Virgina.

The neighbourhood, on the banks of the Potomac River that separates Virginia and D.C. was once home to one of the busiest railroad development areas in American history. Continued use from the 1850’s until the 1980’s left the site heavily toxic, with decades of cleanup and redevelopment since taking place.

This isn’t the first time the neighbourhood has been earmarked for new sporting arena. The then Washington Redskins (NFL) unsuccessfully campaign for a new football stadium construction back in 1992.

How far is the move?

Speaking with D.C locals this morning, the proposed move continues a trend of recent and ongoing economic development in North Virginia filling in gaps between Alexandria, VA and D.C. Following the completion of the Potomac Yard station in May of this year, the proposed new site is approximately 20-25 from the Capital One Arena via rail.

So it’s the ‘Virginia Wizards’ then?

The prospective move to Virginia doesn’t necessarily mean the Washington name is gone from the franchise either. The Washington Commanders of the NFL currently play at FedEx Field in Western Maryland, eight kilometers East from D.C.

The Wizards franchise has a long history and have relocated twice in the past. Originally the NBA’s first expansion team as the ‘Chicago Packers’ in 1961, they moved two years later in 1963 to Baltimore, Maryland as the first iteration of The Bullets. A decade on, they moved to D.C. as the Capital Bullets, leading the league in the 1973-74 season with two Hall-of-Fame big men in Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.

How are the Wizards doing this year?

This Season, The Wizards are currently tied for the second worst record in the NBA at time of publication, with a 3-19 record. The organisation pinched Michael Winger from the General Manager job at the Los Angeles Clippers prior to last off-season, and traded their franchise centerpieces in Brad Beal (Phoenix) and Kristaps Porzingis (Boston) away over the summer break.

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