When Justin D. Ross resigned from the House of Delegates in 2012, it felt like a big deal.
Ross was only 36 at the time, a rising star in Annapolis and in Prince George’s County politics, with a decade of legislative service under his belt. He told The Washington Post he was tired of being “a part-time father.” But his decision to move on was also seen as an indictment of the slow pace of advancement for most state lawmakers in the legislative power structure.
Ross certainly did all right for himself. Within months, he was joining forces with several other smart Annapolis operatives to form Perry, White, Ross & Jacobson (PWRJ), which quickly became one of the most successful government relations firms in the state. Ross parlayed his close ties to House leaders into annual earnings that routinely hovered around the half million-dollar mark, and the lead partner of the firm, Timothy A. Perry, a one-time chief of staff to the late Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), annually cleared $1 million in earnings.
At home, Ross remained a powerbroker. He became a confidant to Prince George’s County Executives Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) and other political leaders. A former commercial real estate broker, he also became a top strategist and cheerleader for economic development projects in the county.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ross and PWRJ will announce the next move in his professional progression — and it also feels like a big deal. Lobbyists come and go all the time in Annapolis, but most remain tethered to State Circle and the government relations trade, sometimes jumping from firm to firm.
He is leaving the lobbying practice almost entirely to pursue a new career in the sports and entertainment industry. Beginning July 1, Ross will serve as senior vice president of Global Sports Programming for Next Level Sports & Entertainment (NLSE), which was recently purchased by former Obama administration Defense Department official and tech entrepreneur Andre Gudger, who happens to be a UMBC graduate.
NLSE is a growing media concern that is currently available on cable TV, satellite systems and digital platforms in 40 million U.S. households — and about 100 million worldwide. The company is the only Black-owned sports network in the world.
Ross said his role will be helping the network expand its programming, as it competes with Goliaths like ESPN. NLSE just signed a contract to air games of the Professional Collegiate League, a fledgling pro basketball league, and will also start airing professional lacrosse games. Gudger, who was a client of Ross’ when Ross worked in commercial real estate, bought a lacrosse team, the Atlanta Blaze, in 2018.
“It’s an authentic, unapologetic place to tell stories about athletes and entertainers whose stories never get heard,” Ross said of the network’s mission.
As for the firm Ross is leaving behind, PWRJ, whose clients include AT&T, Altria, Amazon and Anheuser-Busch (and that’s just the A’s), will retain its name for now, with Ross’ R intact. The firm only recently moved from its longtime home on Cathedral Street, a handful of blocks from the State House, to the former State Circle headquarters of the now-defunct Alexander & Cleaver lobbying firm.
There is one client in Ross’ lobbying portfolio he is not giving up: The Washington Football Team.
“We are very excited for Justin,” Perry said. “It’s an opportunity he should not pass up.”
Ross said that while he “loved being a part of this amazing firm,” the chance to work with Gudger and learn a new industry was too good to pass up.
“We’re at the ground level of this thing,” he said. “It’s so fun. It’s just ideal.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect that Andre Gudger bought the Atlanta Blaze lacrosse team in 2018.