Students Weigh In: Washington Sports Franchises to Relocate to... Virginia?
Credits: Mitchell Kasdan ('27)
The Washington Wizards and Capitals have both played their home games in Capital One Arena since the late 90’s. This will soon change. The Wizards and Capitals will move from Downtown D.C. to a new arena in Potomac Yard, Virginia. The move means that the teams will be miles from the Capital One arena, where many Walls students have often attended games. Ted Leonsis, owner of both the Washington Wizards and Capitals, announced his decision to relocate the teams in December 2023.
Money is one of the key reasons behind the decision. Virginia offered $2 billion for both teams to move and build another stadium in the state. Meanwhile, D.C. offered Leonisis $500 million to renovate Capital One Arena.
Luke Voss (‘27) would want to have the Caps and Wizards stay if they could. “I feel like we have lost a part of D.C. culture,” he said, “our sports teams are a part of what defines D.C., and when they move away, the entire district will feel the effects.”
Walls PE and Health teacher Cory Matthews also works as a statistician for the Washington Wizards. As a longtime D.C. resident, he said that the potential move “hurts more as a Washingtonian than it does as a sports fan.” He explained that in downtown D.C. “many of the restaurants and businesses will lose a revenue stream, and many of our residents will lose their primary or secondary incomes.”
Adam Chilbert (‘24) said, “[I’ve gone to] a lot [of games]... maybe five [or] six,” just this season. One of the main reasons for going to that many games in a season was, “because it's so easy to get to. So just being able to hop on a train, get off right at the exit and go to a game again, it's so easy that if I have a free Friday night, it's just [simple].”
Max Goldberg (‘24) has only been to a couple of games in the last year. He also found getting to games “very convenient. I take the Metro to Gallery Place.” Even though, “the Wizards suck. They really suck,” it still can be fun just to head downtown through the metro or even the bus. The new stadium is, “not inconvenient, but it's definitely out of the way.”
The effects of moving away from a city’s downtown can be seen in the Atlanta Braves’ move from downtown Atlanta to Truist Park, more than 13.3 miles from downtown. The old Braves stadium was located right next to a light rail station in Atlanta. The new stadium never got linked to the MARTA train system in Atlanta, so it is very difficult to get to a game from downtown without a car.
The Wizards and Capitals will face the similar challenge of public transit access to the new stadium. The new arena would be closest to the Potomac Yard Metro station which is on the fringes of the system, only connected to the Blue and Yellow lines. While it will be connected, the WMATA General Manager has said that the Potomac Yard station is not capable of accommodating as many fans as the Gallery Place station. The new arena might become more car-centric and isolated from many fans in the region.
Another cause for the move is the Wizards’ poor performance. The team currently has a .167 winning percentage, the second-worst record in the NBA. The Wizards have the NBA’s lowest percentage of seats filled in the arena at games, only 82.7 percent. The Capitals are not faring much better: from December 2022 to December 2023 they had the worst attendance dropoff of any NHL team. The teams’ lack-luster performance has had an impact on attendance, and thus the profitability of games at the arena. This has likely contributed to the decision to relocate. Voss said, “I think both teams have been mediocre in recent years… I believe the low quality of these teams could be one reason for low attendance and the stadium being moved.”
Goldberg said, “I get that sometimes you have to suck in order to rebuild, but it definitely isn't a good look that you're trying to generate excitement about your team while they've won five games.” Tiller believes that relocating the teams could help them to rebuild “because [moving] brings attention to the teams and hopefully more money to the teams, which attracts more players and hopefully will make the teams better in the long run.” A move to a new stadium in the coming years means that both teams could potentially be entering their years of contention in the playoffs.
Further, moving the teams to Virginia may help boost the economy. Travis Tiller (‘24) said that, “Potomac Yards would become a new destination for not only sports, but many other activities in the area.” This is because like all other modern stadiums and arenas built in recent years, the new arena will likely have a surrounding ‘shopping district.’ If Potomac Yard develops a shopping district around the stadium, it could provide many new restaurants and stores serving the local community. This will provide an economic boost to the retail sector and possibly incentivize high-density residential development in the surrounding area. On the other hand, an already struggling Gallery Place and Chinatown will lose a major attraction.
In many American cities, the NBA and NHL arenas are in the heart of the city, like Capital One Arena is now, but this move will bring both franchises into the largest state without a major five league professional franchise. Will both teams start to gain support from Virginians across the state, or will even fewer fans show up to a brand-new state-of-the-art and state funded arena?