- - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

You might not have noticed last week, with all the attention being paid to Nationals Park and South Capitol Street. But there were a couple of sonic booms that came from Chinatown — specifically the building formerly known as the Verizon Center, now called Capital One Arena.

Part of that noise was Alex Ovechkin, blasting a hat trick in the Washington Capitals‘ home-opening 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. But several days before that, there was an even bigger boom that reverberated through the newly-named arena.

Monumental Sports — owners of the Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, Capital One Arena and numerous other assets of note — had a new investor.

Not just another investor — but a rock star, someone with deep pockets.

Laurene Powell Jobs — the widow of the man who changed the world, Steve Jobs — dropped about $500 million dollars into Monumental Sports, putting her second in line behind majority owner Ted Leonsis.

This wasn’t some sort of token vanity investment so Powell Jobs can have a seat in the owner’s suite and tell her friend that she owns an NBA team or an NHL team. No, Powell Jobs came to play.

The news raises a lot of questions about the health of Monumental Sports — the parent company for the Wizards, Capitals and other entities — and its future.

Why this infusion of money in Monumental now? Just after they signed a new $100 million arena naming rights deal with Capital One, though it was less than what they had originally hoped for? Not that long after Leonsis made the deal that gave him ownership of one-third of Comcast Mid Atlantic? Those two steps should have put a healthy chunk of money into Monumental — enough that you would think they didn’t need any new club members, let alone one that stepped over all the other minority investors to take the seat right behind Leonsis.

Maybe those existing club members decided that they were tired of reaching into their pockets to cover losses?

Leonsis inherited a debilitating mortgage on the arena when he became majority owner after Abe Pollin died in 2009, along with other less-than-lucrative deals. His two major sports franchises, the Wizards and Capitals, lose money. ESPN reported that the Wizards were one of nine NBA teams that lost money last season, even after receiving league revenue-sharing money, and Leonsis has said over the years that the Capitals lose money. And he’s building a new 5,000 seat arena and practice facility in southeast Washington.

Powell Jobs’ money — she is reportedly worth $20 billion — will go a long way to ease those losses and expenses. But it comes with a price — possibly the future of Monumental Sports.

She made it clear that she wants to own a sports franchise when she bid, and lost, on the Los Angeles Clippers several years ago to Steve Bawlmer. The Washington connection is that her brothers, Brad and Greg, have known Monumental vice-chairman Raul Fernandez for more than three decades, going back to their days as students at Maryland, according to the Washington Post.

Her investment puts her next in line to own Monumental Sports — sort of like Leonsis was when he bought a piece of Abe Pollin’s company from the owner. You don’t invest $500 million to be a passenger. You’ve got your eye on the driver’s seat.

When Leonsis announced that Powell Jobs was coming on board, he made it clear in the press release that she is a minority investor.

“Today, Monumental Sports & Entertainment Founder, CEO and Majority Owner Ted Leonsis announced that Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and President of Emerson Collective, will join the Monumental ownership group as a minority investor. The NBA and the NHL have approved the transaction, which takes effect immediately.

“Through her work at Emerson Collective, Laurene has been a longtime leader in areas of education, immigration, social justice and the environment,” Leonsis said. “She shares my belief in a double bottom line philosophy: that the companies that do best are those that do good in their communities, and that sports offers a global platform that unites people and lifts up communities. I am thrilled to welcome her to the Monumental family and to one of the most dynamic, diverse and innovative partnerships in sports and entertainment.”

Look, to have someone like Powell Jobs investing in Washington sports seems to be a good thing, which should only help all the Monumental operations — Wizards, Capitals, even those two Arena League football teams that play in the Ted Leonsis Arena Football League.

Pay close attention to the rumbling down in Chinatown, because the lady is likely going to be an influential force in Washington sports in the future.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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