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Will WNBA’s Mystics Return to DC’s Capital One Arena?

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Capital One Arena may be getting a consolation prize.

In the wake of Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s deal to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards out of the Washington, D.C., arena to Virginia’s Potomac Yard, owner Ted Leonis announced that the WNBA’s Mystics may be moving back in.

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If the deal for the Capitals and Wizards to leave the Capital One Arena goes through, the plan is to bring the Mystics back to its original home, said Leonsis, who owns all three sports franchises.

The Mystics played at Capital One from the arena’s opening in 1998 until 2018, and have since played their home games at the 4,000-seat Entertainment & Sports Arena on the St. Elizabeths East campus at 1100 Oak Street Drive SE. Its lease on the east side of the Anacostia River is not set to expire until 2037. 

Under the proposed plan, Monumental would continue to invest directly—with no public funding—in maintaining Capital One Arena’s standing, and envision it to serve as the Mystics’ future home, a spokesperson for the company told Commercial Observer.

“The fandom of women’s sports has exploded in recent years and the Mystics are consistently selling out their home games,” the spokesperson said. “We believe we can create a tailored game day experience for that expanding fan base and provide the space for this championship-winning team to continue growing the franchise to play for 10,000 fans within 3-5 years.”

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is not happy about that plan, claiming a move for the 2019 WNBA champs would be a big setback for development east of the Anacostia River, a main focus of her administration.   

“The District honors its contracts, and we trust and expect our partners to do the same,” a spokesperson for the Mayor told NBC4 on Wednesday. “This partnership and the arena it built have been a catalyst for change in Ward 8, creating jobs and opportunity and paving the way for new housing, retail, and health care on the St. Elizabeths East Campus.” 

Monumental’s plan, as outlined by Leonsis at a press conference earlier this month, calls for the Capital One Arena to be transformed from 20,000 seats to 10,000 seats for women’s basketball games, though it would return to the original number for larger concerts when needed. The company pays the District $400,000 annually to utilize the Entertainment & Sports Arena for Mystics’ games and Wizards’ practices, according to the mayor’s office.  

The Mayor also hasn’t given up on keeping the Capitals and Wizards from leaving D.C.

Bowser introduced legislation that would extend Monumental’s lease — set to expire in 2027 — until 2052, with $500 million in financing for upgrades distributed over a three-year period, starting in 2024. The legislation states the Capitals and the Wizards would not be able to relocate outside the District until the end of the lease.

“Downtown D.C. is the District’s economic engine that provides revenue resources to support important programs in the city,” Bowser said in a prepared statement. “Mr. Leonsis and Monumental Sports have been critical partners in keeping our downtown thriving, especially after the pandemic.” 

Capital One Area opened in 1997, and Monumental’s ground lease is set to expire in 2027. Monumental owns the arena but leases the land from the District. 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.