Washington Professional Sports Teams Expand to Self Coverage
Zach Leonsis, left, Monumental Sports manager of business development, and Dan Shanoff, USA Today director of audience development, speak at a panel on entrepreneurial journalism sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism on March 12, 2014.
March 14, 2014

Washington, D.C.-based Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards, is one of a growing number of professional sports teams owners setting up digital media operations to cover the teams it owns.

On its website, the Monumental Network offers in-depth text and video coverage of the NHL and NBA franchises. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which is owned by former AOL executive Ted Leonsis, also owns the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center, where all three teams play.

Working for the company that owns the teams gives Monumental Network reporters increased access to athletes, a privilege competing organizations do not enjoy. But the arrangement raises questions about whether Monumental Network reporters can provide objective coverage of the teams.

“Our niche is going to be exclusive content,” Zach Leonsis, Monumental Sports’ manager of business development and Ted Leonsis’ son, told the audience at an event on entrepreneurial journalism sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism on Wednesday, in response to a question about the ethics of self-coverage. “There are plenty of other places to go if you want really critical content.”

Monumental Sports & Entertainment is hardly the first professional sports team owner to run a media operation providing self-coverage. The National Football League, for example, operates a popular cable network and Major League Baseball runs a network of websites covering its teams.

But the Monumental Network offers a new twist on the standard self-coverage playbook.

It has expanded its coverage to include Washington sports teams it doesn’t own, including the Washington Redskins and the Washington Nationals.

And it has established affiliate relationships with sports blogs that offer independent coverage of sports teams in Baltimore and Washington, including some that offer sometimes critical coverage of the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards.

Monumental’s website lists 11 affiliated sites in the D.C. and Baltimore region, including PressBox, Orioles Uncensored, and HAIL Republic, along with 14 of its own sports blogs. It also shares content with Comcast SportsNet Washington, WTOP radio, SB Nation, Snagfilms and On Tap Magazine.

For now, the network is online, but Zach Leonsis said the company is considering launching a television network that could compete with Comcast SportsNet, which currently broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games.

“We see this going to a TV channel one day,” he said. “People aren’t brand loyal to channels. They’re brand loyal to content.”

Follow AJR on Twitter: @AmJourReview

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