New York Islanders Owner visits Merrill College, talks sports

By Chris Tulp

Jon Ledecky, owner of the New York Islanders hockey team, gave a talk Nov. 2 about hockey and sports business, in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Eaton Theater.

Early on in Ledecky’s ownership career, he became a minority owner of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards after he partnered with current Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

Ledecky had a few failed bidding attempts on sports teams such as the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, the Oakland Athletics of the MLB and the Washington Nationals of the MLB.

He eventually teamed up with his friend from high school and college roommate at Harvard, Scott Malkin, to go out and try to purchase a sports team.

The two of them met with the commissioners of the four major sports. The first offer they got was the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA. Malkin wasn’t really interested in basketball because he loved hockey.

The New York Islanders came up for sale, so Ledecky and Malkin took the opportunity and bought the team from Charles Wang. The two were minority owners with Wang until they got majority shares in 2016. Ledecky said he loves New York and called it the biggest sports market in the country.

He also still has favorable views of the area that he spent 30 years of his life in.  

“Washington, D.C., is a fabulous place to live,” he said. “If I was a young person again, you couldn’t pay me to move to New York.”

Ledecky made the point that as an owner, you have a platform to do good, without being an elected public official.

“There are however, two kinds of owners.  Those with huge egos who are all about themselves and those who really want to do good for the community,” he said.  “More people are stepping up and competing to own sports teams nowadays because they see the impact they can make in a community.”

According to Ledecky, sports are one of the few businesses that everyday are featured in newspapers and TV broadcasts for free. He mentioned the Islanders as an example. “Multiple newspapers cover our games so we’re in the paper every day. We’re on the local newscasts every day with a highlight.”

The coverage doesn’t stop at the local level.

“We’re on ESPN with the score at least and hopefully the highlights. ESPN isn’t the rights holder for hockey, so they put it in the back of bus, but we’re still on national TV every day,” he said. “Name me another corporation in America that for free, has that much exposure on a branded name basis.”

Ledecky made it a point to let the audience full of journalism majors know, “I’m counting on your generation to come up with the creative ideas that would propel sports teams the right way in the future.”

In the new arena that will be built for the Islanders, Ledecky has questioned whether there should be seats and then posed a question to the generation of millennials sitting in the room.

“Do you guys want to sit for two and a half hours at a sporting event, or do you want to roam around and meet each other?” he said.  “Aren’t you tired of swiping to meet each other?  Wouldn’t you like to meet each other at a social event that’s cool?”

These are the type of ideas that can drive local revenue. The more local revenue you have, the more successful you can be; the more successful your team is, the more free agents want to come to play there.

Ledecky touched briefly on the topic of making sports safer and what role owners can play in the process.

“Owners have a responsibility to make good in sports for the kids growing up playing these sports,” he said. “So companies are forming to focus on making technology that can make the games safer.”

Ledecky funded a scholarship for incoming Merrill College students called the Jonathan Ledecky Sports Journalism Scholarship. According to the Merrill College’s website, “Recipients must have an expressed interest in sports journalism, be accepted for full-time enrollment, and maintain good academic standing.”

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