SportsBiz: All’s well so far for merged authority

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is technically defunct, but efforts to attract new events to RFK Stadium and the rest of the city are as alive as ever.

The city’s main sports marketing arm is now part of the newly formed Washington Convention and Sports Authority, a single agency devoted to luring and managing conventions, sports and entertainment events. The new authority held its first board meeting last week after a gradual merging of operations.

“It was a pretty smooth process,” said Greg O’Dell, who headed the Washington Convention Center Authority and serves as chief executive of the new organization. “We’re all actually very excited. This is an opportunity to merge some pretty similar missions. And from the city’s perspective, it’s only going to enhance what the sports commission was doing before. Now there’s the full depth and breadth of this organization behind them.”

Until last year, O’Dell was CEO of the sports commission before being recruited to head the former Washington Convention Center Authority. Now O’Dell has ultimate oversight of the sports and convention businesses, but he has some help.

Erik Moses, the last CEO of the sports commission, joined the new authority as managing director of the Sports, Entertainment and Special Events division. Bill Hall, a partner at the Winston & Strawn law firm and former vice chairman of the sports commission, is head of the new authority’s Sports and Entertainment Committee. Beverly Perry, senior vice president of energy company Pepco Holdings Inc., is chairwoman of the merged board.

“This merger will make us bigger and better by combining resources, coordinating efforts and giving us a larger platform,” Hall said.

Indeed, having all of the operations under one roof will make it easier for the city to get the most bang for its buck. A person attending a convention might be encouraged to go to a game at RFK Stadium or Nationals Park, for instance. And the authority’s existing relationship with Destination D.C., the city’s tourism agency, could help fill hotel rooms.

Mayor Adrian Fenty pushed for the merger as a cost-saving measure. The sports commission had run into revenue problems since the Nationals left RFK Stadium. With rent payments going to pay for the new ballpark instead of helping balance the commission’s budget, it was forced to ask the D.C. Council for a subsidy.

There was early apprehension about the merger and angst after the loss of about 15 employees because of layoffs. And with Hall the only board member coming over from the sports commission, the new authority has lost some of its most experienced eyes and ears.

Another point of nervousness came after the city announced that maintenance of RFK Stadium would shift to the D.C. Department of Real Estate Services, introducing another agency into management of events there. But officials said the transition has been relatively easy; several staff members who had worked on the stadium for the commission have remained in their roles despite switching employers.

In the short term, the authority’s main priority is the EagleBank Bowl in December, plus some boxing, roller derby and soccer events. The authority is involved in discussions with D.C. United about a possible new stadium and has a long-term vision of luring the Redskins back to the city.

“Because we’ve already recognized some savings in merging these two entities, we definitely will have the ability to use more resources and make them available to the sports and entertainment side,” O’Dell said. “There has been a resource drain for them, and so to have this organization stand behind them will help them accomplish what they should have been doing all along.”

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