Two more pro teams, the Las Vegas Aces and the Atlanta Dream, recently changed hands. The WNBA purchases are further evidence of a hyperactive sports franchise market. Even as professional sports continue to lose money due to the pandemic, teams are getting snapped up for top dollar.
Predictably, billion-dollar sales of top teams make headlines. But the number of new stakes in up-and-coming sports franchises is no less impressive.
Big Leagues Command Big Bucks
Larry and Gail Miller owned the Utah Jazz since the mid-80s. While they weren’t looking to sell the franchise, they were persuaded by the right buyer at the right price. Ryan Smith was flush from the sale of his software company, Qualtrics. He and his wife Ashley traveled in the same social circle as the Millers and shared their passion for the Jazz.
In October, the Millers accepted the Smith’s $1.66 billion offer for the NBA team. The deal included Vivant Arena, the G-League affiliate, and the Salt Lake Bees triple-A baseball team. The Smiths also agreed not to move the Jazz.
Meanwhile, the Wilpons were eager to sell the New York Mets. Yet, just as they’d get close to a deal, the family scuttled it. But billionaire Steve Cohen was persistent in his quest for the team. In September, Cohen finally acquired 95% of the Mets in a deal that valued the team at $2.42 billion.
The mammoth pandemic-era deals were noteworthy, but leagues with mid-range price tags got even more action, especially from celebrity buyers.
Purchase Recaps: WNBA, NWSL, F1, AFC
NFL Raiders owner, Mark Davis, agreed to purchase the WNBA Las Vegas Aces from MGM Resorts earlier this year. Since moving the Raiders to Las Vegas, Davis has been an avid Aces fan. He’s planning to build the team a brand new training facility adjacent to the Raiders’ headquarters.
While Davis’ WNBA team purchase was a bit of a surprise, the Atlanta Dream’s ownership change couldn’t come soon enough. Former co-owner Kelly Loeffler had run afoul of both the league and its players. In January, the league announced that the Dream would have a new owner. More than a month later, the WNBA announced the Dream’s purchase by an investment group comprised of two Northland Investment Co. executives and retired player Renee Montgomery.
Los Angeles will be home to one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s (NWSL) expansion teams. In July, the NWSL granted expansion rights to a star-studded ownership team, including actor Natalie Portman, tennis pro Serena Williams, and 14 former professional women soccer players who all have a stake in Angel City.
Not to be outdone by Williams, her longtime rival and mentor, tennis star Naomi Osaka also bought into the NWSL. Earlier this year, Osaka took an ownership stake in the North Carolina Courage.
The women who have invested in me growing up made me who I am today, I don’t know where I would be without them. Throughout my career I’ve always received so much love from my fellow female athletes so that’s why I am proud to share that I am now a owner of @TheNCCourage ⚽️❤️ pic.twitter.com/Iz0YcVvOqz
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) January 28, 2021
UK Team Action
Men’s soccer got a share of celebrity investment. In November, Wrexham AFC was purchased by actors Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and Rob McElhenney (Always Sunny in Philadelphia). The price tag for the Welsh football club — the third-oldest professional football club in the world — was $2.78 million.
In August, the Williams family sold its F1 racing business to Dorilton Capital Management. The US investment firm paid $200 million for the team, which will retain the Williams Racing name and Oxfordshire headquarters.