This week’s announcement that Monumental Sports & Entertainment had reached a nonbinding agreement to move the Washington Wizards and Capitals from downtown D.C. to a future arena in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood shook the city as area residents envisioned a future without the NBA and NHL teams in the District. What didn’t get as much attention was the future of another franchise owned by Monumental, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
If plans come to fruition, the Mystics would no longer play their home games at Entertainment and Sports Arena in the Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast D.C., instead moving back to Capital One Arena, where they played before their first season in the smaller building in 2019. Entertainment and Sports Arena would remain the Mystics’ practice facility and team headquarters and the home of the NBA G League’s Capital City Go-Go.
Those plans raise concerns, particularly about why the Mystics would move back to an older building that owner Ted Leonsis and Monumental felt was unfit for the future of the Wizards and Capitals when the Mystics’ current home is just four years old. Additionally, Capital One Arena was previously believed to be too big for the Mystics — the stands in the approximately 20,000-seat venue felt cavernous even when the team would draw a decent crowd — and the 4,200-seat capacity at Entertainment and Sports Arena created a more intimate atmosphere.
John Thompson III, the senior vice president of Monumental Basketball, attempted to address those issues in an interview this week, explaining the plan is to renovate Capital One Arena and install flexible seating that can shift the arena’s capacity from 20,000 seats to 10,000 depending on the event. Thompson said the current capacity at Entertainment and Sports Arena is too small.
“As great as the environment is [at Entertainment and Sports Arena], and it is unbelievable, we now have an opportunity to multiply that more than twofold,” Thompson said.
Part of the thinking is related to an expected growth in Mystics attendance. They averaged 4,391 fans in 2023 — above the arena’s official capacity — and the WNBA saw its highest total attendance since 2010, to go with its best television numbers in more than two decades and new highs in digital engagement.
In 2018, the last season the Mystics played their games in Capital One Arena, the team averaged 6,136 tickets sold. A 10,000-seat arena is more in line with the organization’s projections.
“For us, it’s a mixed thing,” Mystics General Manager Mike Thibault said. “We’ve gotten used to playing at ESA. From a competitive situation, it’s been a home-court advantage for us. From a business standpoint, it’s limited on the numbers of fans you can put in it, and that’s been tough. We have grown since we moved over there. Our fan base and that kind of thing is something we would like to increase.
“From a logistics standpoint for our players and coaches, we want to give our fans the best fan experience and our players the best playing experience. And there’s a lot to be done between now and then.”
The adjustments would go beyond game day arrangements. Thompson noted that the Mystics would have more space at Entertainment and Sports Arena once the Wizards move their operations to Northern Virginia, and he compared the potential setup to the Wizards’ current situation, in which they practice in Congress Heights and play downtown.
A brother-sister-type relationship has formed between the Wizards and Mystics at the Southeast facility, where the organizations share training and other support staff. The teams share a cafeteria, and players interact often.
The reorientation of the training staff between multiple facilities would be among the more significant issues that would have to be addressed.
“We haven’t dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s of how nuanced every different department is going to be and how we’re going to interact,” Thompson said. “Fortunately, we have four or five years to figure it out. But I do agree that having an environment here where … the Wizards and the Mystics, literally all services are shared, has been and still will continue to be for the next four or five years an incredible experience.
“It’s not going to diminish the care that we give to the Mystics. It’s not going to diminish the quality of service, the quality of attention, the quality that they receive. Not at all.”
The Mystics won the 2019 WNBA championship at Entertainment and Sports Arena, and from the beginning of their time there, the organization has touted the importance of its relationship with the community, especially Southeast D.C. The team essentially adopted Ward 8, and it hoped the building would bring more people to the area and help spur development. New condominiums can be found nearby, and a community center recently opened next door, but the area hasn’t been developed as many predicted. In this week’s announcement, Monumental noted that it has “provided the residents of Ward 8 nearly $11 million in direct and in-kind contributions to date, as of the end of 2023. That amount surpasses the $10 million the company promised to deliver as part of its lease agreement with D.C.”
If the Mystics relocate their home games, the situation in Ward 8 could be similar to that downtown, where city officials are concerned that relocating the two primary tenants of Capital One Arena will have adverse effects on the surrounding area.
“The departure of the Capitals and Wizards would be detrimental for our downtown and the District as a whole,” Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto (D) said, “and we would need to fill that void intentionally and urgently by following the successful models we have across the District — multiuse corridors that include a mixture of work, entertainment and residential density.”
Thompson was adamant that Monumental isn’t abandoning D.C. or Ward 8 and that the relationships and community investments will continue.
“The Mystics and the Go-Go will be here,” Thompson said. “What we do in the community will not change. … We have time to prepare. When we’re not here, how are we going to stay invested in this community? We have years to make those plans and hold ourselves accountable to that.”