Ted Leonsis brings The DMV to the top of the AFL
BALTIMORE- The old expression that two is better than one seem’s to be Washington businessman and AFL Owner Ted Leonsis motto. After announcing in March that he would be bringing the AFL back to Washington D.C. to add to his already impressive resume, Leonsis and his company Monumental Sports & Entertainment announced last month that they would be adding a second expansion team, bringing the AFL to Baltimore for the first time.
“It’s either innovative or crazy to try and launch two expansion teams in a league that is being repositioned. But, why not try it? I’m an optimist by nature, and I think we have a real good organization. We will leverage the business operation that we built, and that's why we think we can sell sponsorship's and season tickets.” Owner Ted Leonsis said.
“On the football side we will keep those totally separate. By hiring an experienced coach both for the Valor and now for the Baltimore franchise we can go very quickly. The only positive about other team’s closing is that there is a lot of players available.” Leonsis said.
The Baltimore franchise certainly did get an experienced coach, hiring former LA KISS Head Coach Omar Smith to try and put ArenaBowl banners in the Royal Farms Arena rafters. Smith played in the AFL from 2000-2008, spending all but the 2003 season with the San Jose Sabercats. In 2003, Smith played with the Tampa Bay Storm, the farthest east he’d call home as a player or coach until being hired by Baltimore today.
After his playing days ended in 2008 with the Sabercats, Smith quickly transitioned to coaching. Smith was named the defensive backs coach with the Arkansas Twisters of the AF2 in 2009.
Smith was the defensive coordinator with the Arizona Rattlers during their illustrious run from 2011-2013, appearing in three ArenaBowl and winning two. After his two seasons with the Rattlers, Smith returned to the place he’d called home for so long during his playing career, becoming the assistant head coach for the San Jose Sabercats from 2013-2014.
After San Jose folded, Smith was hired by the LA KISS as the team’s head coach. This was Smith’s first experience as a head coach, and he took a franchise that had struggled immensely in its first two seasons, and clinched the team a home playoff game in his only year with the team.
Smith comes with a championship pedigree like few others have in AFL history. With seven ArenaBowl titles on his resume, Baltimore fans have to be excited about what the future of their team could look like.
“The ownership group is unprecedented.” Smith said. “Monumental Sports has a proven track record of running successful sports organizations, and that’s something that is extremely key to me. The infrastructure they have in place is going to be great, the resources will allow the Baltimore franchise, as well as the Washington franchise to flourish.” Smith said.
“I think this is an exciting time for the AFL. I’ve been around this league for a while, and I’ve seen some great times and some low times. I’m a true believer in this league, and I believe sometimes you’ve got to take a step back to move forward and I think that’s what the AFL is doing. Their vision and their slow progression on how to build this league back up, I think it’s gonna be great. I think this league is gonna be something special in the years to come.” Smith said.
Smith has not filled the rest of his coaching staff out yet, but did say that former LA KISS player personnel director Scott Bailey will hold the same tite in Baltimore.
The Baltimore franchise will play at Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore. The arena seats 14,000 and has an intimate feel to it. With its premier location right in the mix of downtown Baltimore, it’s the perfect spot for the new team to play at.
“Well one it was available, and two it’s got a lot of history and character.” Leonsis said. “It’s certainly the oldest arena that is in the league and because it’s an older arena there is some unique things about it. The acoustics in this place are really loud, the way that the original bowl was built the fans are very close to the action.” Leonsis said.
Leonsis and his staff will have some opportunities to do innovative things considering that their is a stage on the same level that the playing field will be on.
“They have a very unique setup with the stage on the side.” Leonsis said. “We used that stage when we held Capitals and Wizards preseason games here for entertaining. For the AFL we’ll do a next generation indoor tailgating if you will.” Leonsis said.
Royal Farms Arena general manager Frank Remesch believes that the experience of watching a game live in Baltimore will be unprecedented in the AFL because of the arena’s smaller size.
“What Mr. Leonsis was saying about this arena, the intimacy of this facility, it’s a 14,000 seat arena, and the acoustics because of when it was made, it will be absolutely incredible to see a game.” Remesch said.
Royal Farms Arena has seen indoor football in the past, with the Baltimore Mariners of the AIF playing in the arena for four years. Prior to the Mariners, the arena also had the Baltimore Blackbirds in 2007 of the AIFA.
Remesch said that the previous ownership groups just weren’t the right fit, but that Monumental Sports was ideal for the arena because of their proven track record in promoting events and putting quality organizations on the field.
“We will try lots of innovative things.” Leonsis said. “I was just talking with the Philadelphia folks and said, why don’t we try and go to Acela and create a pass where your ticket would allow you to go from Philly, to DC, to Baltimore, and you could get in and off at whatever station you wanted, and you could attend any one of the team’s games. So why don’t we try and do some fun things, kind of like unlimited usage and if you’re a fan of the game, why not on Saturday go to Washington and Sunday go to Philly or to Baltimore for a game. I want to work with the league to make sure that our scheduling can accommodate that but we will try that.” Leonsis said.
“We also are going to price this very affordably. I think it’s important to get people to sample the game. I also would like it to be so families can bring the whole family and it can be affordable, as was announced today if you buy a season ticket it would be eight dollars a game.” Leonsis said.
“I remember when I was a kid growing up my dad was a waiter, and we didn’t have any money growing up, and Jet’s tickets when they launched the franchise were seven dollars a game, with seven games. So you could buy two season tickets for 99 dollars. That became my birthday and Christmas gift from my dad, and it was awesome to be able to take the subway, and go to games with your dad on a Sunday. That created my sports fanaticism, those are memories that I have forever. When the Jets beat the Colts here, I felt like I was a part of that. I ran outside and all the neighbors were outside beeping their horns. I was able to be in that community as a season ticket holder, and it costed my dad a hundred dollars a year. So to be able to replicate that here was very important to me.” Leonsis said.
Also in attendance in Baltimore was the Philadelphia Soul’s COO John Adams, and Owner’s Marquese Colston and Stewart Anmuth.
“We feel really good about the ownership and organization.” Colston said about Monumental Sports. “I think the more rivalries that we have, especially in this close proximity, I think is good for the game.” Colston said.
“It’s a really good place for us to restart from, kind of shrinking the footprint and really making sure that we’re moving forward with the right groups, it’s huge for the league and once we kickoff and get this season under our belt you’ll see the expansion grow pretty rapidly.” Colston said.
With the AFL currently looking like it will run the 2017 season with five teams, expansion seems likely to be on the way. With rumored cities like St. Louis, Newark, and Charlotte to name a few seemingly being the next targets for the league, it appears that the league is heading on an upward trend.
“Well I am head of the expansion committee,” Leonsis said. “Working with the commissioner and other owners, the first thing is we want slow and steady. I think it’s really important that we know who our partners are, that we are insync for our vision on what the league will be, that we are patient investors, and that we have experience managing other teams. If you look at a lot of the turmoil in this league, it’s because of inexperience of first time owners, they write a plan, it doesn’t come to fruition and maybe they lose more money than they expected, and they end up not being good partners, they run away. We can’t afford that in this league. This league has been around a long time, but it has bicycled through to many ownership groups who shouldn’t have been able to be in the league to begin with.” Leonsis said.
“We have this down now to essentially four core groups. Cleveland, Dan Gilbert is a giant, he owns the Cavaliers, they just won the NBA Championship last year, Jeff Vinick who's done an unbelievable job with Tampa Bay, Monumental, we have multiple teams, and Philadelphia with Ron Jaworski, and those are the kind of owners we want, not dabblers, but people that own team's, own buildings and know what they’re doing.” Leonsis said.