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Thoughts of a Mystics Fan from the 2011 Season: Is Ownership Truly Committed to the Mystics?

After last offseason, this question went through my mind. 

It is actually quite sad that I even have to ask that question, and it hurts more when the same owners of the NBA team I love also own the WNBA team I love. When you ask that question and hold season tickets for both the Washington Mystics and Wizards teams, it really gives you a sour taste in your mouth, possibly moreso than for folks who only hold season tickets for the Mystics.  Sorry if I sound like I'm rambling here, but I wanted to throw some thoughts I have had about the Mystics for quite some time, but I didn't want to post these until the season was close to finishing.

I know the events that unfolded last year with the Mystics were belabored before on other blogs and message boards but I will have to summarize the events once again unfortunately.

What happened in the 2010-2011 offseason (yet again)

The Mystics in 2010 enjoyed a 22-12 season, best in the Eastern Conference (well they tied for first with NY and won the tie-breaker, but still they were first), and going 9-2 to close out the season after starting out at 13-10.  After the playoffs, the Mystics let go of General Manager Angela Taylor when she refused to take a pay cut.  The team then offered Head Coach Julie Plank the additional role of GM which she declined because she just wanted to be a coach, so they told her to jump off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which she did so happily. After that, they went to plan C to offer the Head Coach and GM roles to assistant coach Trudi Lacey, who accepted the position.

If these front office moves weren’t enough to get Mystics fans and especially season ticket holders angry, soon after Lacey was named head coach and GM, Sheila Johnson, the Managing Partner held a press conference regarding the changes.  She did not exactly give a ringing endorsement for Lacey, and noted that all of these coaching changes were a "crapshoot."  She also implied that other partners within Monumental Sports and Entertainment (the Mystics’ owning entity) held the Mystics to a budget, and ultimately that this move was made to keep the franchise alive.  The move was belittled by many of the WNBA’s respected writers like Mechelle Voepel among others.  Even during the 2011 WNBA Draft, I noticed that Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck were taking shots at the team for these moves.

Soon after the infamous press conference, Ted Leonsis, the majority owner of the Mystics (and Monumental Sports) told the media that the Mystics were not in danger of folding, but also that these offseason changes were Sheila’s call, not his.  Sure, he helped allay some fears, but still, the damage was done by then. 

Well now that the 2011 season is almost done, the Mystics quite frankly suck on the court, and possibly to some, this is rightfully so.  Sure, we have a great post in Langhorne, and yes, Ajavon has improved mostly because she plays more minutes, but Currie is out for the year, and Beard is gone for a second full season.  This doesn’t take into account the Lindsey Harding trade for Ta’Shia Phillips, which ended up being nothing, plus Atlanta's 1st round pick next year, and the Katie Smith for Jasmine Thomas trade plus Seattle’s 1st round pick for next year.  But when you look at Ted’s 10 points to building a championship team, the Mystics are doing anything and everything to break those points, at least after point number one.  And on the DC Basketcases blog, commenters throughout the season continue to fear that the owners are trying to fold the franchise after this season.  Look here, and here.  So really, are the owners trying to break the Mystics fans for the purposes of folding the Mystics?  My answer is no.  Are they still committed to the Mystics?  Yes.  So why?

Reason 1: The Mystics have a Marquee Sponsor

In April 2011, at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, the Mystics announced a marquee partnership with Inova Health Systems, which runs several hospitals and medical facilities in Alexandria City, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County, Virginia. According to the team, the deal is pretty big of course, and I know from a source that it is likely bigger than the sponsorships that Phoenix, LA, NY, and Seattle have with their marquee sponsors.  In addition to the jersey space, Inova Health will be a major sponsor for the Mystics with its health initiatives, as well as the Wizards-Mystics Youth Basketball Camps

I would think that with any major sponsorship like this, Inova Health would not have signed on if Ted wanted to either fold the Mystics or move them elsewhere after this year.  Stuff like this would have been said behind closed doors.  There will still be naysayers noting that Inova Health is a big Wizards sponsor as well and that they may stay on with the Wizards even if the Mystics folded, but again, that doesn’t cut it for me.

Reason 2: The Mystics are displayed prominently throughout the Verizon Center

When you enter Verizon Center, you will see three banners like this below:

Imag0013_medium

(My personal photo)


There is another banner showing all three jerseys which I didn't take a picture of.  The organization’s staff almost goes out of their way sometimes to make sure people know that yes, the Mystics are a part of the family, and they don’t say it begrudgingly either.  When you walk around the Verizon Center concourse, you will see pictures of current and sometimes former Mystics and Capitals players.  For the Wizards, you only see former Bullets players because of the lockout obviously. 

Some folks who think that ownership wants to fold the team may say one of three things.  One, it doesn’t cost much money to make a banner for the Mystics and stick them next to the Wizards and Capitals.  Two, the Mystics’ logo change was really pitiful and it was merely a color refresh.  Three, look at the new practice court:

Imag0014_medium

(My personal photo)

As you can see it just shows the design for the Wizards, with their new logos abound, and it ties to point two.

Again, I’ll address these points.  First, I dunno how aggressively Simon, Sarver, Taylor, MSG, and Holt market their WNBA teams, but I think our ownership is pretty active about it, and I think they are marketed more than before.  Second, team logos are very expensive to completely revamp, and keeping a team logo the same with refreshed colors is apparently much cheaper.  Also, with the Mystics getting a jersey sponsor this year, this is in many ways a logo change in and of itself and this deal had to be in the works when the logos were changed.  At least some Wizards fans are still not happy with the primary logo of the team because it is still the same Wizard that graced DC since 1997.  Lastly, I’ll hit the issue with the practice court.  Note that the Wizards and Mystics have only ONE full size court for their practice gym as opposed to some other teams that have off site practice facilities with multiple full size courts, and the reality of the NBA vs. the WNBA is that the NBA is a bigger enterprise and has to take priority if you had to put your money into one of the two.  Possibly a hybrid court showing both team logos could have been done, but it is what it is now.

Reason 3: The Mystics are getting more TV time than before.

A large number of the Mystics’ home games are on Comcast SportsNet Mid Atlantic, one of the Baltimore-Washington area’s two regional sports networks.  In addition, the team is showing an 8 episode documentary throughout the season called "Mystics Magazine: The Journey."  Previously, the Mystics did not do such a show, and there have been more and more games put on CSN over the last few years.  Given that CSN doesn’t have the rights to Nationals or Orioles baseball which Mid Atlantic Sports Net (MASN) holds, there is a lot of free time from 7 PM on during weekday nights, so Mystics basketball it is!

Ted recently wrote on his blog noting that the Baltimore-Washington area is the only Top 10 metro area where the same ownership group owns an NBA team, an NHL team, a WNBA team, and their arena, but not its own regional sports network, so he may have been hinting at trying to own his own sports network which from a Mystics perspective could mean that every Mystics game could be on TV.  A regional sports network could also raise the monetary value of the Monumental Sports and Entertainment enterprise and it could rival that of MSG as a sports and entertainment empire. 

The only thing I would like to see is radio time for the Mystics games, since they don't have any games through that medium right now.

Conclusion

I honestly believe that even though the basketball related moves were not good moves, at the end of the day, I still believe that the Mystics' ownership is committed to the WNBA and that they are in it for the long haul.  If they weren't, then we wouldn't be seeing the jersey sponsorships, no team documentary, and I forgot to mention that the team was changing and adding new tiered benefits for the Mystics season ticket holders for next season as well though that doesn't change the on court product obviously

Then again, I was drinking the Monumental Red Kool Aid with reckless abandon when Ted's group assumed full ownership of the Wizards and after John Wall got drafted last June and in the months after that until this happened.  I thought the Mystics were really about to start something special in a good way after the end of last season, and oh boy, was I wrong, so who knows what will happen after this season is over?  Since most of you aren't Mystics fans, do you think the owners are all in and truly committed to them?

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