In hockey circles, Ted Leonsis is best known as the affable and ever-present owner of the Washington Capitals, but that's just the beginning of his presence in the D.C. area -- he also owns the NBA's Wizards and the WNBA's Mystics, and is an Internet pioneer, investor, author, filmmaker and philanthropist.
On Thursday night Leonsis was also a guest on the "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman," where he expounded on the differences between running a hockey team as opposed to any other type of business.
"I'm convinced that winning a championship is the hardest thing to do in business," Leonsis said. "It's probably the achievement that's so hard to get to the promised land. It's why you see grown men cry when you give them that Stanley Cup trophy. You've seen very successful people speechless and humbled, and it's the greatest accomplishment in all of business."
Leonsis grew up in Brooklyn playing street hockey and basketball. His father was a waiter who sometimes received sports tickets as part of his tips, so Leonsis got a chance to attend his fair share of Rangers and Knicks games. Later, as a college student at Georgetown University, he began to attend Capitals games.
"I learned early on the power of sports and how it teaches you competitiveness, how it teaches you the power of teamwork," Leonsis said. "(I) fell in love with the game and was always a fan, became a season-ticket holder to the Caps when I became president of America Online, and when the opportunity came to buy the team back in 1999 I just jumped at it. It was a dream come true."
The Capitals had some lean years during Leonsis' early tenure, and he made the decision to dismantle the team, trading most of the big names and established veterans for younger players and draft picks. Beginning with the 2007-08 season, the Capitals have won the last three Southeast Division titles and entered play Thursday with a 14-4-1 record, tops in the League with 29 points.
"Now we're five years into that plan and a lot of those picks and prospects have turned into some of the best players in the League," Leonsis said. "We're stocked with first-round picks -- Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alex Semin, John Carlson, our young goaltenders. You go down the list, we are a home-grown team -- and we still have upside."
Fans who don't have the opportunity to watch the Capitals on a regular basis will have an opportunity to see that upside for themselves this season through the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day, when they visit the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and the HBO "24/7" series documenting both teams leading up to the annual outdoor game.
"What the League has done with the Winter Classic I just think is spectacular," Leonsis told Bettman. "From the first moment the puck dropped in the very first game I expressed my joy with the presentation of the game and that I hoped our franchise one day would be considered and worthy to play in it. And we're psyched. We're just so excited to be playing New Year's Day against Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh.
"So when HBO came calling and said they wanted to do a promotion that would show a large audience how great these players are and how fantastic the game is, I didn't see any downside at all. And I'm so happy that the players, the coaches, the general manager, everyone has welcomed HBO, and what I've seen so far is breathtaking -- the technology they use, the camerawork, the production value, the respect they're showing to the game, the way they bring out from each player their personality and the respect the players show to the game and each other is really, I think, something the fans are going to enjoy watching tremendously. I just can't be happier with the process and I know the end product is going to be spectacular."
Between the HBO series and his own recently-released documentary DVD, Ovechkin is one player who won't be lacking for any exposure. Leonsis shared his own views on one of sports' biggest superstars.
"He's a very, very humble, modest, family person, and he is one of the most coachable players I've been around," Leonsis said. "He and the coach (Bruce Boudreau) get along, he loves his teammates, he's a great, great teammate besides being this fantastic individual talent. And what I'm most pleased about him is he's won MVPs, he's won scoring titles, he's won goal-scoring championships. He's not looking at his stats at all this year, he's only caring about the team's success."