SME5Q

SME5Q is our discussion forum with various industry leaders, where we ask five thought-provoking, brand-related questions about their areas of expertise.

SME5Q Title

TED LEONSIS


Ted Leonsis is one of the most successful moguls in all of sports as well as a pioneer in media and the founder, chairman and majority owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which comprises three professional sports teams - the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA) - as well as Verizon Center.  Leonsis also spent 13 years at AOL before retiring in 2006, and held a number of senior positions, including vice chairman and president.

 

After surviving an airplane crash landing in 1983, he drafted his famous list of 101 things to do in life and also authored a book, “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Life and Work.”

 

With a number of successful business ventures under his belt, Leonsis also assists other organizations and serves on a number of boards – American Express, Groupon, Rosetta Stone and his alma mater, Georgetown University.

 

Among his many honors, Leonsis has been named Washington’s Businessman of the Year, a Washingtonian of the Year, one of the 20 most influential people in sports, one of America’s most creative executives and a top 10 entrepreneur of the year.

 

SME sat down with Ted to discuss his infamous "101 Things to do in Life," his ideas on rebranding and the importance of philanthropy.

 

 

SME1Q:
“101 Signs of Visible Change” was pretty unprecedented – talk about transparency! What led you to initiate this and how will it continue throughout the season? Is there one thing on the list that you really wish you could have completed, but didn’t?
 

When we purchased the Washington Capitals in 1999, we did something similar. It’s obviously important to have a plan when you acquire a new entity, but it’s equally important to have an open mind and consider what your employees, customers and fans expect. Shortly after closing the deal to purchase the remaining shares of the Washington Wizards and Verizon Center, I wanted to hear from our hockey and basketball fans as well as those who visit the arena for concerts, family shows and other events. Those 101 items reflect their comments and wishes. Some my view this as being “transparent,” but to us it just seems like a smart business practice. This is what people are thinking, so let’s recognize it and act when and where appropriate. There is a collective wisdom of our crowds.

Some of the items on the list are a work in progress, but we have identified areas in need and all of us are working hard to improve the experience for our fans. The one item I wanted to accomplish – and actually said we would do – is install stage lighting. We were working diligently to accomplish it until engineers informed us that the Verizon Center roof wouldn’t be able to support that style of lighting given the new HD video board and the sound and lighting requirements many bands demand. So we were forced to back off and opt for a less-aggressive solution. We were transparent about the issues, and explained the situation to fans on my blog. I was a little surprised. I thought they would be upset with us – heck, I was upset, I really wanted to make this happen – but they just appreciated the openness, honesty and communication. So I appreciated their reaction – we have cultivated a we-are-in-this-together bond with our fans.
 

SME2Q:
It’s safe to say you are an innovator in the new media/digital space. - you've worked for AOL, currently serve on the Board of Directors for Groupon and you're also the founder of SnagFilms. The Caps have been very aggressive in social/digital media, but what tools are you planning to implement with the teams in the future? What is your vision?

 

I will leave the word “innovator” and other descriptions to you and others. I just try to perform my due diligence and move on initiatives that will improve our teams and the experience for our fans. In the short run, I want to improve the wireless capabilities in our arena. Our fans are some of the most wired groups I know, and they demand connectivity as they use a variety of devices to enhance not only their game experience but also to connect for personal and business reasons. We will introduce several applications to improve their overall arena and game experience, including the launch of a Verizon Center app.

  

SME3Q:
You once said, “In great literature, there are three big themes. The first is the new kid comes out of nowhere and beats the odds -- David vs. Goliath. Next act is the kid meets fate, has bad luck, makes bad choices, and falls. The third is redemption.” From your expertise, how does a brand rebuild itself?
 

If a brand is going to rebuild, it has to first realize a reset is necessary. Once that is agreed upon, everyone in the organization needs to understand the philosophy, strategy, goals and metrics. Realize it won’t be easy, and be cognizant that deviation from the plan, while it may appear to be a short-term gain, likely will have long-term negative ramifications. Once you have established strategy, you rely on your various organizational leaders to execute the plan.

  

SME4Q:
Giving back is very important to you. What larger goals do you have for “filmanthropy” and sports teams as vehicles for community and charity?

 

SnagFilms continues to be the leader in distributing free, ad-supported independent films, with more than 2,000 documentaries in its library. We recently received $10 million in growth capital from New Enterprises Associates and Comcast, which will be used to expand our distribution, including the release of independent fictional films. All of this is great news for film fans and filmmakers.

From a team perspective, we understand that owning and operating a sports franchise is a public trust, and we need to be good citizens and good neighbors. Our employees and players are extremely giving of their time and frequently their money and many understand that giving back to the community not only is good for the community but also for one’s own happiness. I want the teams and companies I associate with to be committed to a double-bottom line, doing well as a business and being responsible to our communities’ needs. We plan to create a charities arm of Monumental Sports & Entertainment that will align our teams and better position us to support our charitable endeavors. 

 

SME5Q:
One of the items on your “101 Things to Do in Life” is to hold an elective office. You’re already one of the most powerful men in the District… is this your official declaration for the 2012 election?

 

Ha, I’ve already checked that one off my list; I was mayor of Orchid, Fla.