If approved, the deal to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards from downtown D.C. to Northern Virginia is likely to increase political pressure on the District to win the jurisdictional battle for the Commanders’ new stadium.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) would feel more urgency to land the NFL team she long has championed to return to the RFK Stadium site because of the public perception that she “lost” the Wizards and Capitals, according to Derek Hyra, a public administration and policy professor at American University.
Marc Ganis, the founder of Sportscorp Ltd. and a consultant to multiple leagues and teams, and one other person with direct knowledge of the Commanders’ stadium search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions, agreed with the broader characterization that the political pressure on Bowser to bring back the Commanders would increase if the Monumental deal goes through.
Ganis said Bowser’s $500 million offer to Monumental immediately set a new floor in financial negotiations for the Commanders — which is notable because Bowser had not previously discussed any direct public funds for the team.
But Beverly Perry, a senior adviser to the mayor who is spearheading D.C.’s efforts to bring back the Commanders, disagreed that the deal to move the Capitals and Wizards would affect the city’s pursuit of the football team.
“They’re independent of each other,” she said. “There is no way you can tie the two together.”
The immediate ripple effects for D.C.’s competitors, Maryland and Virginia, are less clear. Experts have particularly conflicting views on whether the deal increases or decreases Virginia’s chances at the NFL team. But the deal to move the teams owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment to Potomac Yard, which could involve the largest arena subsidy ever, sets the stage for a bidding war over the Commanders’ next stadium that could continue shaking the regional sports landscape.
For its part, the Commanders’ ownership group has been careful not to indicate a preference between jurisdictions.
“It’s all developing,” the person with direct knowledge of the Commanders’ stadium search said. “Obviously, D.C. needs a sports team. They need more than one sports team.”
D.C.’s pursuit of the Commanders is stuck in Congress. House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) introduced a bill in July that would give D.C. greater control over the RFK site and make it a realistic option for the team. In late September — despite significant debate over whether the District should be allowed to use public funds to redevelop it into a stadium — the bill advanced from the committee.
But the legislation has stalled. In October, the House spent weeks without a speaker, and more recently, House committees with jurisdiction over the bill have discussed changes, such as which federal agency would own the land or take on administrative functions, according to twopeople with knowledge of the legislative effort, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations. The House broke for the year Thursday without advancing the bill further.
Comer introduced the RFK bill as an extension and amendment of the city’s lease of the site with the National Park Service, which is slated to end in 2038 and restricts land usage to sports, recreation and entertainment. The bill may ultimately be rewritten as a land transfer, Perry said.
City officials expect the bill to pass “early next year,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said.
A spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
After the splashy Monumental announcement Wednesday morning, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was asked if Virginia would still pursue the Commanders.
“We’re talking about basketball and hockey, a tremendous organization,” he said of Monumental. “The Commanders are going to have to decide what they’re going to do. Of course, we would engage in that discussion, but this is where our focus has been, and I’m so excited that it was able to come together in an announcement that truly reflects something that will be one-of-a-kind for the world.”
The cost of landing the Capitals and Wizards — $1.35 billion in state and local funds — could make Virginia less inclined to pursue an NFL team and help fund a multibillion-dollar stadium. The arena might also “diminish the market viability” of an NFL stadium because the commonwealth wouldn’t want to build a competing stadium-anchored, mixed-use development, said Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
But Ganis argued Monumental’s potential move could actually make it easier for Virginia to land the Commanders.
“Virginia has put together a structure to help support the development of new sports facilities,” Ganis said. “It has crossed that line where they’ve made the decision, this is important to the community, to the state. They’ve come up with funding sources and broad parameters of a deal. When you’ve done it once, it’s a lot easier to do it a second time. We can use the example of Maryland for that.”
This year, the Ravens renewed their lease at M&T Bank Stadium for 15 years, keeping them there through at least the 2037 season. An increase in bond authorization from the state allowed the MSA to provide $600 million to both the Ravens and the Orioles for stadium improvements. The Ravens announced last week they plan to use $430 million of their allocated funds for a multiyear renovation project.
Now, even though Virginia legislators are more open to working with the Commanders following the departure of former owner Daniel Snyder, they might be wary of asking constituents to support the funding of another sports stadium.
Two Virginia legislators, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations, said they didn’t believe it would be possible for the state to land the Commanders as well. But both said the Youngkin administration didn’t frame Monumental and the Commanders as an either-or proposition.
If Virginia’s interest or negotiating power is diminished, that would help the other two jurisdictions.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) has already begun to make his case for keeping the Commanders in Prince George’s County, and he also has said he’s willing to provide public funds for a new stadium. Moore could have the most to lose if FedEx Field isn’t replaced with a gleaming, multibillion-dollar stadium and a mixed-use development to attract year-round activity in the state. Moore has called his early efforts to persuade the team to stay in Landover “very aggressive.”
“Nothing about what we saw this week with the Wizards and the Capitals changes how we will continue to aggressively pursue a continued relationship with the Commanders,” Moore said in a radio appearance on 106.7 the Fan on Friday. In a statement Saturday, Carter Elliott IV, a spokesman for Moore, said the governor was “committed to continuing” the “long-standing partnership” with the Commanders.
A more limited competition for the stadium would also help D.C. because, as Ganis and Hyra pointed out, the city has a ceiling on what it can offer to the Commanders.
“Bowser may not have much more to give them,” Ganis said. “Interestingly, I think Congress [which can reject or modify D.C.’s budget] might be more inclined to help with a football stadium than the arena. People still remember what the old Redskins meant to the city and to the politicians and to the people who would use the stadium to bring guests and things like that. There’s still memory of that when it was the only game in town.”
Others with knowledge of the Commanders’ plans have warned that funding and ancillary developments are parts of the equation but certainly are not the sole determinants of the location of their future stadium. In short: It’s about more than money.
Barry Svrluga, Laura Vozzella, Gregory S. Schneider and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.