- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Perhaps Red Klotz should challenge Anthony Williams for mayor of Washington.

Klotz, the coach of the Washington Generals — the longtime foil of the Harlem Globetrotters, holds a claim on the worst-ever coaching mark in sports, registering more than 8,000 losses and counting.

Greater Washington itself is also the midst of a painful losing streak, though certainly not to the epic level of the Generals-turned-New York Nationals. The local area was shut out last week in its bid for the 2008 Super Bowl, extending a string of defeats that includes failed efforts for major league baseball, the 2012 Summer Olympics and a Mike Tyson heavyweight fight.

The circumstances and reasons behind each defeat are quite different, ranging from the U.S. Olympic Committee’s unfair and oft-changing bid evaluation process to Major League Baseball’s chronic inability to define what it truly wants for the Montreal Expos or stick to any self-imposed timelines.

But the stinging and repeated public rebukes from the sports world’s largest powers have many local leaders scratching their heads, searching for answers and losing their patience.

“What else does this region have to do to show it’s first class?” said an angered Michael Steele, Maryland lieutenant governor, shortly after the NFL vote. “How many times do we have to prove that?”

No one really knows the answer to those questions. But one thing is for certain: Washington-area leaders should start steering clear of Chicago. It’s where local sports dreams go to die. Two years ago, baseball’s owners voted during a meeting in suburban Chicago to eliminate two teams, an ill-fated plan that still shows its aftereffects as the Expos remain without a real owner or a true home to call their own.

Nearly a year later, the USOC also used a hotel near O’Hare International Airport to end a local Olympic bid four years in the making. And, of course, NFL owners made their selection of Arizona for Super Bowl XLII right in the heart of Chicago.

Beyond that striking coincidence, however, soul searching is already under way by local leaders. There is no dispute Washington and the surrounding area should keep bidding for these major sports events. The local demographics, population growth and being the nation’s capital dictate that.

But just as Steele said, the still-unresolved question is how to push the efforts over the top.

“We simply have to keep doing this stuff, getting up to bat and taking our swings,” said Bill Hanbury, president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corp. “If we want to be a premier destination and play in the big leagues, we have to keep going. There really is no other choice.”

In fairness, the Washington area has not been completely shut out when it has bid against other cities for special sports events. The Mall played host to the NFL’s season-opening extravaganza two months ago. And Major League Soccer, the late Women’s United Soccer Association and FIFA each have used RFK Stadium as a regular spot for all-star games, exhibitions, title contests and other special events.

But soccer matches and one-day events simply do not come close to the massive appeal or economic impact of the Olympics, a local baseball team or the Super Bowl. Even the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, held at MCI Center and a top-tier event that extended over several days, pales in comparison.

Baseball is by no means a closed issue. Both the District and Northern Virginia still seek a team, and baseball’s relocation committee still exists and is functioning. A permanent move for the Expos, however, is off until at least 2005, and perhaps longer.

In the meantime, several substantial changes are under way that will shape how Washington bids for these big-time events. The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission is turning over its executive leadership after it ran afoul of the D.C. Council and posted several unprofitable years. Attorney Mark Touhey awaits confirmation as the new commission chairman, and outgoing executive director Bobby Goldwater will be replaced, probably by early next year.

As that turnover happens, the D.C. Council is reviewing the core mission of the sports commission. A massive restructuring of its organizational structure and fiscal policy is possible.

Also, the Greater Washington Board of Trade recently formed a regional sports alliance that will aid the local sports commissions, venue owners and politicians in their event bids, particularly ones that involve more than one political jurisdiction.

“There is a lot of to be proud of in all these bids, and elements that still point to success in the future,” said Goldwater, who was on the task force that created the Board of Trade sports alliance. “Washington does know how to put on big events. What you’ll see going forward, particularly through the alliance, is a greater level of involvement from the regional business community. They want to be associated with sports, and every team and venue in the area can certainly benefit from that kind of support.”


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