Abe Pollin is selling majority ownership of the NHL's Washington Capitals and a minority stake of the NBA Wizards and 18-month-old MCI Center to America Online executive Ted Leonsis.
Pollin made the official announcement Wednesday afternoon, in what might partially be an acknowledgment that the more genteel era of sports ownership the 75-year-old Pollin knew 30 years ago is long gone.
Pollin's decision comes on the heels of a tumultuous passing of the reins for the NFL Washington Redskins. A complicated and often messy resolution of late owner Jack Kent Cooke's estate has kept the team from moving to Cooke's son, John.
Pollin's holdings, under the umbrella known as Washington Sports and Entertainment, also include the USAir Arena in suburban Landover, Md., the Washington Wizards of the WNBA and TicketMaster of Washington/Baltimore.
"Over the past two years ... I've watched what happened to the Washington Redskins ... It made me step back and re-evaluate ... It made me ask some hard questions of my family and myself. I have made some very difficult decisions over the last few months. The most difficult decision is what we are here today to announce. I am here to announce that I have sold the Washington Capitals," Pollin said.
The Redskins' process spurred the withdrawal of John Cooke's bid as well as an $800 million bid by a New York developer, and it has led to the likely league approval of another $800 million bid by 34-year-old area businessman Daniel Snyder.
"This decision came after extremely difficult and painstaking consideration. I deliberated for months, consulted my family and finally came to the determination that the time was right and the future owner, a man I have come to know very well, was the kind of person I felt would take good care of this franchise."
"I wanted to make sure that the Capitals would stay in Washington and would be an integral part of the community. And I also wanted the Capitals to win. This man and his team will make that happen," Pollin said.
Pollin addressed whether the attitudes of today's athletes have soured him on sports.
"I'm still in sports. And players' attitudes -- both good and bad -- are a part of the business. I'm still a sports nut and always will be. I love sports," he said in a prepared text.
The Capitals reached the Stanley Cup last season for the first time in their then-24-year history. But a full slate of injuries and a slow start this year kept them out of the postseason altogether.
Meanwhile, the Wizards -- known as the Bullets before last season -- have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 1981-82. Their playoff appearance in 1996-97 ended a nine-year postseason drought.
Leonsis is president of the Interactive Properties Group for AOL, heaquartered in nearby northern Virginia. AOL is not involved in the ownership as a corporate entity.
"I believe it is important," Leonsis said, "for everyone to realize that Abe wanted this sale to happen because he wanted to take care of the franchises and make sure they remained in Washington, D.C. He could have sold the Capitals to any number of people, but he felt it was important to keep them in Washington. I share that feeling."
Pollin said choosing to sell the Capitals or Wizards first is "in some ways ... like having to choose between your children. Last summer, when I was making a decision, the Caps had a terrific run and I felt I should leave on top. The process took longer than I thought and (this) season did not pan out like I had hoped, but I had already committed in my mind."
Recently, the Capitals have experienced a reported $20 million loss.
"I'm not going to get into financial numbers, but I've lost money on my teams at different times and losing money on a team has never forced me to sell," Pollin said. "It did not this time, either. I found the right partner at the right time."
There is no timetable for the full transition of ownership of the Wizards and MCI Center to Leonsis.
"I'm not ready to do that (immediately)," Pollin said. "I'm not ready to retire. I'm still a young man. When the time comes that I feel is best to sell the Wizards and the rest of Washington Sports and Entertainment, I will."
Leonsis is working with two minority partners, Washington businessman Jon Ledecky and Capitals president Dick Patrick.
Leonsis has also announced he will keep general manager George McPhee and coach Ron Wilson in their current roles with the Capitals, along with other front office staff.
He called McPhee and Wilson "two of the finest young minds in the game today."
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