At an appearance at an elite club of business leaders in Baltimore on Wednesday, D.C. sports mogul Ted Leonsis said he’s excited by the notion of the three nearby major East Coast cities – Baltimore, Richmond and Washington, D.C. – merging to become a “super city.”
Leonsis shared his vision during a speech at the CEO Club of Baltimore on March 22. For more than an hour, the Monumental Sports CEO talked about his growing business presence in Baltimore, the things that he thinks can best lift a city up and his apparently slow-rolling Arena Football League franchise here in Charm City.
The mogul was keen on the notion that Baltimore could merge with its two southerly urban centers. Business leaders have suggested for years that D.C., the largest of the three, could forge an economic network with Richmond, roughly 110 miles to the south on I-95, and Baltimore, about 40 miles up I-95. Some of that has already started, with growing numbers of D.C. commuters moving to Baltimore to save money in recent years, and the city campaigning to bring more of them here.
“We love Baltimore,” Leonsis said onstage. “We have the opportunity to be a super city.”
He compared the idea to what has happened in New York City, which draws many of its workers from Connecticut and New Jersey.
His capitalist ambitions may be even broader than Maryland, D.C. and Richmond. “My new thing is, we want to acquire Delaware,” he said, possibly joking. He chided the coastal state, “You want to be with Philadelphia?”
Leonsis also laid out what he feels are the key components for making a great city: Multiple “great research universities,” green public space, such as parks, a defining business community and excellent sports teams.
Leonsis surprised pretty much everyone in November 2016 when, shortly after founding a new Arena Football League team in D.C. called the Washington Valor, he also created the franchise later named the Brigade here in Baltimore. The teams will face off in the Brigade’s season opener on April 7 at the Verizon Center.
The businessman pointed to Baltimore’s legacy teams as an example of the boost that sports can bring to a city. “The Orioles won a championship. People still talk about that,” he said. “The Ravens, oh my gosh, what a fantastic franchise, and they won a Super Bowl. They put the city back on the map.”
He continued, “The social responsibility around a winning sports team is unbelievably demanding and important, because nothing brings a community together better than a sports team.”
The Brigade, which got its official name, logo and jerseys only two months ago, has been slow to sell tickets, Leonsis said. So far, they’ve only sold 500 season ticket packages. Royal Farms Arena, their literal home turf, seats 14,000.
They’re also not fully equipped yet. “Our team doesn’t even have its helmets yet,” he said.
Leonsis told the room while he expects to “lose a lot of money with 400, 500 people in that arena…we’ll work it through.”
“Considering I’ve owned sports teams for 17 years and I’ve never made one dollar of profit, it’d certainly better not be for the business,” he said. “I have a very firm belief that in big cities and often big communities, there’s very few iconic businesses, industries that come to define what that community is about.”
Leonsis did say he supports a proposal by Gov. Larry Hogan for Baltimore to get yet another arena in place of the current State Center complex. Hogan and two members of his administration voted to scrap a development deal to fix up the government complex in December. The Maryland Stadium Authority earlier this month approved a study to see if an arena should be built there instead.
He said doing so would allow his teams, the Washington Wizards of the NBA and Capitals of the NHL, to play more games in Baltimore.
The Wizards, known as the Baltimore Bullets until they moved south in 1973, used to come up to Baltimore regularly to play in what’s now Royal Farms Arena. They last played there in 2014 for a preseason game, while the Caps’ last game there was in 2013.
“Say there is a new arena here – who’s to say you couldn’t play 10 games in Baltimore?” Leonsis posed.
While many Baltimore residents may object to becoming residents of a “super city,” the mogul said he hopes they will lend their support to him.
“Somewhere down the line, it’ll pay off in some way,” he said. “I want to be welcomed and welcoming in Baltimore. I want it to feel like we’re in it together.”