Leonsis Talks Sports, Business and America's Future

Ted Leonsis Reflects on Election and America's Future

November 28, 2012, 1:10 PM

Nov. 28, 2012 -- Virtually everyone in Washington knows the name Ted Leonsis. But what they might not know about him is a moment that shaped much of his adult life. At the age of 28, he was on a plane that began to have technical issues. Told by the pilot to "brace for impact," Leonsis began negotiating with God. He promised that if he survived, he would give more than he took. The plane landed safely, and Leonsis, has been keeping his promise ever since—and doing it at warp speed.

Those in sports know Leonsis as the owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals, the NBA's Washington Wizards, the WNBA's Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center where all three teams play their home games. He founded SnagFilms, a website featuring non-fiction films, and has produced two documentaries himself. He made his fortune as a top executive at AOL, then helped to start the Revolution Growth Fund, and now chairs a new innovation and technology committee at American Express. In fact, it seems like the one Washington arena he has managed not to become involved in is politics.

However, the Washington icon has a thing or two to say about where the country has come over the last two decades and where it might be heading with another four years under President Obama. ABC News spoke to Leonsis about topics ranging from the "fiscal cliff" to basketball.

What are your thoughts on the fiscal cliff? Are you worried?

Jobs are still the number one issue facing the country. Businesses and startups are the biggest driver of job creation. Whatever the administration can do to continue to foster innovation and startups, the better for the economy and the country.

The Administration did a great job in passing the Jobs Act. It has work to do on immigration law. Immigration law would at least help in tech businesses and startups.

[The Obama administration] should work to encourage venture capital to create and to back small businesses. That is vitally important.

I know that you and Steve Case play a big role in start-ups. What would you tell young entrepreneurs today who want to start a business?

Well there has never been a better time to start a business because big companies are playing defense and they are hoarding their cash and cutting back on people. And that leaves a greenfield for aggressive, attacking companies. At some point, those big companies will use their cash to acquire their companies.

What are your takeaways from the election? Next time you sit courtside with the President at one of your games, what piece of advice might you give him?

I think it's about time to celebrate entrepreneurial businesses and treat founders and entrepreneurs as heroes because as companies grow they can hire people and pay higher tax rates and help the economy. There does need to be some healing right now, because going into the election, it appeared that the administration and businesses sometimes were at odds. And really, we need an environment that we are all in this together.

Your own neighborhood newspaper, the News & Messenger, is shutting down this month after 143 years. No doubt, it's come a long way since the days when computers had knobs on them and people had to wait for the local paperboy to get the morning's headlines. What do you make of the changing media and news business today?

It's digitize or die. There is no more choice for traditional media companies. They must embrace new media and try to find new business models.

Do you think that's a good thing?

It's like oxygen -- get used to it.

In your blog, "Ted's Take," you recently wrote that "no one is empathetic in pro sports." Does the same apply to politics?

In pro sports, you are what your record says you are. That's very much like politics. The president won, he got the most votes, so he gets to set the agenda. In sports, if you win games, it's self-evident in the standings. If you're close in games, and you lose, you're still the loser. It's very binary, just like politics.

As a business leader, what do you think the Obama administration should be doing to encourage job-creators and get the economy going in his second term?

I think there has to be a re-embracing of our business leaders, continuing work like the administration did on the jobs act, and anything the administration can do to get rid of bureaucracy and to encourage small businesses to not outsource and to grow in the United States, so that they can hire people and grow their businesses so that they can pay taxes.

Going into the election, the administration was looked at as adversarial toward business. The administration needs to heal that, to re-embrace business, and understand that we are in it together.

Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

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