On Tuesday came the news that Laurene Powell Jobs, billionaire philanthropist, entrepreneur and president of the Emerson Collective, was buying a significant stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the $2.5 billion business that includes the NBA Washington Wizards, NHL Capitals, WNBA Mystics, two AFL teams and Capital One Arena among other pieces. The investment, once approved, will give her the second-largest stake — about 20 percent — in Monumental, the 19-member, Ted Leonsis-led holding company that is one of Washington’s highest-profile enterprises, according to the Washington Post.
But why? Vanity? Nope. Some extra courtside seats or a few trips to owners meetings? Probably not.
The real value is in the bigger picture Leonsis and Monumental presents to be an agent of change through sport for all things STEM; Science Technology, Engineering and Math, along with other aspects of education (robotics, analytics, health sciences can also be factored in at some point).
That goal was deep in the Post story, but it shines through pretty clearly if you look…
The investment by Powell Jobs increases her presence in the Washington community after her business and philanthropic arm, Emerson Collective, bought a majority interest in The Atlantic magazine from its owner David Bradley in July. Powell Jobs wants to use her ownership as a vehicle to accomplish some of her social goals, such as improving education. (They also own the millennial news site OZY.com, which also recently started covering more sports and business lifestyle as well).
And while the brand value of Leonsis’ front and center properties; the Capitals, Mystics and Wizards, are huge, the value in other pieces of the business; a minority stake in an analytics company like Sportradar; investment in esports’ Team Liquid, sponsorships with global brands like Etihad Airways (listen to our podcast with Jim Van Stone to learn more) also weigh in on an investment. There is also Leonsis’ continued push to improve the lives and the experience of living in cities, along with having a showplace facility to entertain and engage in global business conversations that can also tie to philanthropy, that makes great sense here. Also let’s not forget all the work that Monumental has put into creating content not just for their OTT platforms, but there is also Snag Films and other investments in media that come into play as innovative partners.
The alignment and the investment actually fits well not just with brands but with high net worth individuals who see sport as a way to invoke change in bigger societal issues. Sport and the brands around the games, especially the teams and the personalities, are incredibly aspirational as well as inspirational. Whether or not you can be a professional athlete, young people do see them as personable role models, and now as athletes are becoming more involved in social causes and taking their message directly to the consumer through a good use of social and digital media, their brand power for change has grown. At the same time community events as well as the facilities themselves, have become gathering places in cities not just to watch a game, but to interact in a society where, physical interaction is becoming more of a premium. So using an ownership stake with high level personalities, high net worth individuals, brands, community and a facility makes great sense for those who can see a win beyond the game. That’s what makes this announcement even more intriguing. Sure there is probably a little vanity play, but using the assets to move society forward is booth noble and respected.
This move to grow an agenda through sport is not new, but it is evolving.
Recently at the Portada 17 Sports Business Conference Rahul Kadavakolu, head of global sponsorship for internet company Rakuten talked about their somewhat unconventional sponsorship for the patch on the front of the Golden State Warriors jersey this season. It was not to sell more widgets, per se. It was to associate the company with a quality partner whose goals were aligned, and then find ways to use that relationship to invoke business opportunities away from the court, but also build a sense of community that Rakuten as a company can pivot off of globally. “If you want to be successful in sports business, you need to measure brand awareness first, and revenue second.”
Similarly an ownership stake in Monumental for Laurene Powell Jobs is probably not about luxury seats and winning games. It is about a winning culture, and one that can help use sport to invoke change; in business, in community, in initiatives. What a better way to do it than to have skin in the game and a seat at the table (with a principal owner who is all about culture, empowering women and minorities and who comes from a Jesuit background at Georgetown that encouraged people to think beyond the borders) in the most cosmopolitan city perhaps in the world.
Given all the issues we have today, it is exciting to see where this will go, and more importantly how things can pivot for change, not just on the court or on the ice, but in a bigger play. Sure it will drive business and innovation and probably put more capital into the mix for Monumental but this smacks of a chance to do things way beyond a game.
Of all the intriguing sports business stories of the year, this one may be the most interesting to watch, and watch we will.