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Could the Mystics move out of Verizon Center when a new basketball practice facility opens?

There are reasons why such a move could make sense. But it's unlikely for now.

Photo courtesy of Stewart W. Small

On Friday, WRC-TV's Mark Segraves reported that the Washington Wizards NBA team is ready to build a new practice facility in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington, D.C., which is just to the north of Chinatown, where the Verizon Center is located. The center, if in Shaw, would cost about $30 to $40 million to build, per his Twitter account:

Sounds great! A new practice facility which could lure D.C. area native Kevin Durant or other NBA stars! However, the facility would displace several public areas, including a public dog and skate park that is located at 11th and Rhode Island Streets NW, the exact location of the proposed site. Since a public park would be converted into a private property, there is opposition:

Bullets Forever writer Nick Bilka, who wrote about the news on their site tweeted that the chances of a Shaw facility are not very high, at least in part due to the popularity of the public dog and skate park:

Other sites being considered include sites in Arlington and Tysons Corner (Segraves' article stated "Tysons Square"), which are nearby suburbs in Northern Virginia. If there is enough backlash about a facility in Shaw, then it's likely that such a facility would be in those Virginia suburbs instead.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and his company Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also own the Washington Mystics. The new facility would be the WNBA team's practice facility as well. Some other WNBA teams, like the New York Liberty, Minnesota Lynx, and Phoenix Mercury are owned by NBA team owners and practice in the same off-site facilities. While the Mystics are just an afterthought in Segraves' piece, he tweeted out two things that will give WNBA fans in the Nation's Capital cause to pause:

I'll first talk about tax increases on ticket sales though the Mystics were not mentioned. Assuming the Mystics practice at the new facility (I'll be shocked if they aren't), whether it's in D.C., Virginia, or Maryland, it's safe to assume that their ticket prices will increase. Yes, Wizards season ticket holders and other buyers will bear the brunt of price increases (which I'm still not thrilled about from last NBA season). But it's only fair that Mystics season ticket holders also bear some of the brunt of paying for the facility.

Now with the second tweet. The practice facility will also have a 5,000 seat facility, and Segraves suggested that the Mystics could be playing there once it is completed.

Why the Mystics could move out of Verizon Center despite being a Ted Leonsis-owned team

Before Mystics fans start screaming bloody murder and that they are not getting equal attention to the Wizards and Capitals, let's take a look at some reasons why such an idea isn't totally baseless:

  • Declining attendance due to a perennially mediocre-at-best product and other sports teams - The Mystics won attendance banners early in their history largely due to a large number of free tickets. They are the only WNBA franchise with no Conference Championships. Their one Conference Finals appearance was back in 2002, when Emma Meesseman was in elementary school. The frequent losing seasons and a lack of a superstar playing in D.C. since Chamique Holdsclaw -- who didn't pan out as desired herself -- give prospective fans little incentive to attend their games. There are also other sports teams in town, like the Nationals baseball team who are one of the best in the MLB, and offer a lot of cheap tickets. After a number of years where 10,000 or more people attended Mystics games, only 7,229 seats were accounted for in 2014, 6th in the league. There definitely aren't 5,000, let alone 7,229 people actually attending games, even after Mike Thibault took the reins as GM and head coach.
  • Other events make more money at Verizon Center - The Verizon Center hosts hundreds of events besides the three professional sports teams that call it home. Georgetown's men's basketball team also plays their games there, And there annual events there like a horse show, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, and numerous concerts from some of the most popular musical artists out there. Most of these events will earn more revenue than a WNBA game. Having the Mystics play at a smaller facility and opening those 17 to 20 dates for these events should give Monumental Sports more revenue than they would by having them for the Mystics. Money talks.
  • A more cozy facility - One benefit of a smaller arena would be that the atmosphere should be louder with the fans who attend those games. When games are on television, crowds should appear fuller.

Why the Mystics won't move out of Verizon Center

There are also reasons why this doesn't make sense. They include:

  • Monumental Sports will sell themselves short with the Mystics playing in a 5.000-seat facility - This is where I don't agree with Segrave's point or suggestion. The Atlanta Dream had the smallest attendance in 2014 with 5,486 seats accounted for. The Mystics would have the smallest arena in the WNBA should they do this.
  • If the Mystics get a franchise player, there will be more than 5,000 butts in seats every game - The WNBA's most talented teams: the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx had attendance figures that averaged over 9,000 people each with crowds that were full in the lower level. They also had the largest crowds in the league for the 2014 season. If the Mystics can draft Breanna Stewart in 2016 (PLEASE MAKE IT HAPPEN!), any speculation of them moving out of Verizon Center will be effectively squashed. With a franchise star and a contending team, the Mystics should be able to fill the stands with well over 5,000 people, maybe more than the 9,000 that Phoenix and Minnesota saw each game last season. So if they can acquire a player like Stewart, the Mystics will be a much more dangerous team because of the young player development we've seen so far.
  • If the Mystics move to a new arena outside of D.C., they may lose a significant number of season ticket holders - The Verizon Center is centrally located in D.C. and is accessible to public transit. You couldn't ask for a better location for a sports arena to be quite honest. But let's say that Monumental Sports built a basketball practice facility near Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, Virginia (which is about 25 miles west of D.C.), and had the Mystics play there, that would alienate Maryland-based fans. Conversely, a facility in a place like Howard County, Maryland which is to the northeast of D.C. (and close to Baltimore) would likely alienate Virginia-based fans, all due to traffic concerns. Fortunately, neither are considered as possible locations at this time. Either way, a centrally based facility is one of the core strengths that Monumental Sports has with its teams and fans.

Final Analysis

Monumental Sports will build a basketball practice facility in the next few years. Count on the Washington Mystics using it. However, a 5,000 seat facility doesn't appear to be a realistic venue for a WNBA team, especially if their ongoing rebuild is successful over the next few seasons.

Segraves mentioned that the 5,000 seat facility in a practice complex could also be a venue for high school games, and I love this idea. It could also be the home of an NBA D-League affiliate, which Leonsis doesn't own right now.

TL;dr version: For the time being, talk of the Mystics moving out of Verizon Center appears to be speculation. Let's wait until we know when this facility is going to open for sure before jumping to conclusions.