Snyder vs. Leonsis: 20 Years After Buying Teams, Caps Come Out on Top

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Posted May 24, 2019

Leonisis poses with fans in 2013 (Caps Outsider)

Twenty years ago, Dan Snyder bought the Washington Redskins. Needless to say, the Snyder era has been an absolute disaster (Read more about that here).

Meanwhile, also 20 years ago, Abe Pollin sold his beloved Washington Capitals to an AOL executive named Ted Leonsis. According to a Washington Post article from the time, the deal was valued at about $200 million. It also came with hefty mortgage payments on a new building called MCI Center.

From Rachel Nichols’ 1999 article in The Washington Post:

Like Bethesda businessman Daniel M. Snyder — whose $800 million offer for the Washington Redskins is expected to be approved by the National Football League in less than two weeks — Leonsis describes himself as a longtime sports fan who began attending hockey games while a student at Georgetown University from 1973 to 1977. He said he would be “the fat guy with the cigar in the owner’s box yelling and screaming.”

Leonsis’s ownership of the Capitals obviously wasn’t without low points. Like Snyder, Leonsis took some chances on high-dollar gambles. His biggest splash came in 2001 when he signed Jaromir Jagr for $77 million. Jagr played less than three seasons before the Caps traded him, and the Caps pretty much tanked in 2004 before the lockout. While we all know what happened next – the drafting of Alex Ovechkin – it still took a couple of seasons before the Caps consistently made the playoffs. The regular season wins piled up, they raised division champion banners, and they celebrated the accomplishments of the greatest goal-scorer in a generation. But the Caps still didn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs until the 2018 season, which is still baffling.

Even if the Caps had not won the Stanley Cup last year, the constant regular season winning and sell-outs boosted interest in the hockey team at a greater rate than the other local teams, including the Nationals, who flirted with greatness more than once in the past decade.

The next Redskins Super Bowl playoff win, whenever that may be, will instantly overtake any Caps/Nats/Wizards story in the area and re-invigorate interest in the local professional football team. But judging from 20 years of Snyder ownership vs. 20 years of Leonsis ownership, we’ve still got many more years of the Caps being the best team in Washington sports and there’s no immediate reason to believe that the Redskins will be a consistent winner in the near future.

From Michael Wilbon in 1999: A Brand-Name Future