Baltimore is increasingly in the world of Washington sports mogul Ted Leonsis – Baltimore Sun

Leonsis is popular in Washington relative to Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder, who is a frequent target of fan and media criticism, and Washington Nationals‘ owner Theodore Lerner, who rarely gives interviews.

But neither the Wizards nor Capitals have made it past the second round of the playoffs under his ownership. When the Wizards began this season 2-8, fans questioned the selection of the new coach, Scott Brooks, and whether Leonsis had stuck for too long with Ernie Grunfeld, now in his 14th year as team president.

But the Wizards went on a 17-game home winning streak and turned their season around.

“The knives were out,” Leonsis said last week. “I said that I believed in patience and loyalty and the plan.”

He’s known in Washington for mingling with spectators in the seating bowl and concourses.

Auburn Bell, who teaches marketing at Loyola University Maryland, says having a visible, deep-pocketed owner with his own arena and live-streaming network “strengthens the support, certainly” of the fledgling Baltimore team.

But Bell said the arena football concept “is a tough sell in a city that has a relatively successful baseball team and loyal fan following.”

The Orioles’ season season opens four days before the Brigade’s. Bell said the Brigade will also face the challenge of “fans that have more going on with their own kids’ sports activities” during the busy spring.

Analysts give Royal Farms Arena mixed reviews. Some say the 55-year-old arena will be a loud and intimidating venue for opposing players. Bell calls it “a dated and less than friendly space for fans.”

“I’m not sure a state-of-the-art facility would guarantee success,” he said. “But certainly playing in a place like the Royal Farms Arena will not help the overall effort.”

The team is scheduled to play 14 games, mostly at night, at the arena, which seats about 11,500 for sporting events. The home opener is set for May 7.

The Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team also plays at Royal Farms. Its season lasts from November to March. The club is averaging 6,598 in attendance.

The Arena Football League lost teams last year from Los Angeles, Arizona, Orlando, Fla., Jacksonville, Fla., and Portland, Ore. Some analysts say competition from baseball was partly to blame.

In Los Angeles, which supports two baseball teams, the KISS saw attendance drop steadily from season to season, ending at about 7,000 last year. But the Arizona Rattlers, who compete in Phoenix with the National League‘s Arizona Diamondbacks, consistently attracted more than 10,000 fans, and are now in the Indoor Football League.

The Arena Football League is down to five teams — Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Tampa Bay — but hopes to expand soon.

“To me the worst that can happen is only 3,000 people come to a game the first year,” Ted Leonsis said. “And bloggers and some media people say, ‘They’re off to a slow start.’ And we go, ‘OK, I can live with that. So let’s keep working it and marketing it and being involved in the community.’ It’s a great sports town.”

As Monumental pursues Baltimore connections, its executives have met with Under Armour about a sponsorship or partnership, according to multiple sources. An Under Armour spokeswoman said the company is not an official Arena League sponsor or outfitter but that some league teams purchase uniforms through its team sales division.

Under Armour, Ted Leonsis said, “is a very, very entrepreneurial company. My expectation is at some point somewhere we’ll find something big and innovative to work on together.”

To heighten the games’ appeal for millennials, Monumental said it is interested in gadgets that measure athletes’ fitness and performance in real time. Under Armour does increasing work in this area.

Monumental said it imagines a day when there are cameras in helmets, and devices to measure players’ speed and heart rate in real time.

On broadcasts, Zach Leonsis said, fans might see “special animation,” akin to video game effects.

“If a guy’s really hot, maybe there’s a flame. If he dropped a lot of passes maybe there’s an ice cube.”

Monumental is gambling that its live-streaming service — called an “over the top” network — will appeal to the younger audience it covets and to others who have “unplugged” from traditional cable television.

The streaming service offers access to games of the Brigade, Valor, the minor league hockey Hershey Bears and other teams. Subscriptions cost $12.99 for monthly plans, or $8.99 per month for an annual plan.

“Going over the top is relatively inexpensive,” said John Mansell, a sports and media consultant based in Northern Virginia. “But it’s kind of what you call secondary or minor-league programming.”

Monumental says the broadcasts will look different from NFL games.

On the network, the orientation of the field might be vertical, with the play moving up and down on the screen, instead of the traditional horizontal, in which teams move across.

“So it will feel more like a video game — sort of the Madden view,” Zach Leonsis said. “Younger viewers are used to that vertical orientation.

“We’re trying to take this opportunity to develop, tailor and refine what millennial sports programming looks like.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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