- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Redskins have dominated the Washington sports scene for ages. They have been, and likely always will be, the most popular team in town.

For the first time in a long time, though, they are about to face some stiff competition. With the Montreal Expos now relocating to the District, the Redskins’ supremacy over the local sports market could be challenged.

“Will it take a bite out of potential revenues the Redskins might generate? Will it cause some sponsors, who only have so much money to put into sports, to think twice about more expensive Redskins sponsorship? The answer is, absolutely,” said Mark Ganis, president of Chicago-based marketing firm SportsCorp Ltd. “But ultimately, at its foundation, Washington is a Redskins town.”

For proof of that, one need only look at the Redskins’ decades-long string of home sellouts at RFK Stadium and FedEx Field, plus a season-ticket waiting list in the tens of thousands. All this in spite of the fact the Redskins have made it to the playoffs just once in the last 11 years.

With Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs back in charge and local interest at an all-time high, the Redskins don’t appear overly concerned about losing top local billing to the new baseball club, though they are hesitant to say it.

“We have no comment, except to say that we believe Washington is a great sports town,” club spokesman Karl Swanson said.

Experts and long-time Washington sports observers believe the new team will generate immense interest around the area, especially during its first few seasons.

The yet to be renamed club is likely to enjoy two honeymoon periods: one during the first couple of seasons at RFK and another once the team moves into its permanent home along the Anacostia River waterfront.

“What the baseball team will have going for it is newness, and that always has value to it,” Ganis said. “There will be a lot of attention paid to it, so therefore it will siphon some of the attention and some of the money [from other local franchises].”

The effect of D.C. baseball on the Redskins might not be that great. The effect on the city’s other professional sports franchises — Wizards, Capitals, Mystics and D.C. United — could be far more significant.

All have had trouble sustaining success on the field and at the box office, and the addition of a popular baseball team to the marketplace could make a further dent into those teams’ profits.

The Wizards enjoyed a brief period of excitement when Michael Jordan joined the franchise, first as president of basketball operations and then as a player. Since Jordan’s ouster in 2003, though, the team has had a hard time attracting fan and corporate attention.

Like their co-tenants at MCI Center, the Capitals enjoyed a brief resurgence during their run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. But the combination of a disastrous 2003-2004 season, a complete overhaul of the pricey roster and the current NHL lockout has left the Caps in a tenuous position.

“The Wizards and the Capitals are the ones who will suffer the most,” Ganis said. “The fact that those two teams never really captured the fan interest that they had hoped to get in Washington portends poorly for them when the baseball team comes in.”

Regardless, the city’s current sports owners met yesterday’s announcement with enthusiasm.

“We certainly welcome baseball back to Washington, D.C.,” Wizards owner Abe Pollin said. “Having grown up watching the Senators at old Griffith Stadium, baseball in the nation’s capital brings back fond memories for me. This city is a great sports town, and bringing another professional sports franchise to this area will continue to grow sports fans, and that’s important.”

Caps owner Ted Leonsis was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment.

Of all the professional teams in the area, D.C. United could feel the most impact from the return of baseball. The Major League Soccer club had been RFK’s primary tenants and recently moved its offices to the stadium but now must share the facilities with the baseball team or else find a temporary home until the new ballpark is completed or a proposed soccer stadium is built.

“We look forward to meeting in the coming weeks with the [D.C.] Sports [& Entertainment] Commission to develop plans that will enable D.C. United and the baseball team to co-exist at RFK Stadium in a way that is mutually beneficial,” club president Kevin Payne said. “The DCSEC has committed to us that it will work with United and our fans to minimize any inconvenience that might be caused by the conversion of RFK Stadium to a baseball configuration.”

Staff writer John N. Mitchell contributed to this article.

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