SBD/February 6, 2014/Franchises

Magic Johnson Says WNBA Sparks Will Turn A Profit Under New Ownership

Johnson (l) says his group was L.A.'s last chance to keep the Sparks in town
New WNBA Sparks co-Owner Magic Johnson yesterday said that his investment group "can turn the Sparks into a profitable WNBA team," according to Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. TIMES. Johnson said of his ownership group, which also includes Dodgers Chair Mark Walter, "We know what we're up against and that's OK. We love challenges. We feel, yes, we're going to eventually make a profit, no question about it. That's why we're in business, to make a profit." Former Sparks Majority Owner & CEO Paula Williams Madison said that her Williams Group Holdings had lost nearly $12M on the Sparks "over the last seven years, and was projected to lose" more than $1M this season. Johnson said, "We want to increase the fan experience because that's what we did for the Dodgers, that's why we're No. 1 in MLB in attendance." Johnson also said that the Sparks would "continue to play at Staples Center and all of the team's staff," including Exec VP & GM Penny Toler and coach Carol Ross, "would be retained." Johnson declined to say how much his group paid for the Sparks, but he said that they "assumed all of the team's debt." Johnson: "Both Mark and I have been in deals where businesses have lost money and we turn them around. We know how to do that. That's what we do in our sleep" (L.A. TIMES, 2/6). Johnson said, "The team was leaving. It was very close. We came in at the 11th hour, and I think we were the last ones. If we don’t come in and make a deal, I think it was gone." In N.Y., Joseph D'Hippolito notes the Sparks, Liberty and Mercury are the "only WNBA teams still operating in their original cities" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6).

LEAGUE'S LINCHPIN: ESPN W's Mechelle Voepel wrote history is "hard-earned in women's pro sports, and the Sparks have had nearly two decades of it" in L.A. The Sparks "hosted the first WNBA game" against the Liberty in June '97. One of the "greatest players in women's hoops history -- Lisa Leslie -- spent her WNBA career with the Sparks." The team also has "had a bit of a 'villain' persona -- especially in places such as Phoenix and Seattle -- that has given the WNBA some enjoyable rivalry drama." The Sparks leaving L.A. "would not have signaled doom for the WNBA, but it would have been a gloomy development," even if they "had a welcoming landing spot in the Bay Area" (ESPNW.com, 2/5).

NOW, FOR THE LAKE SHOW: Johnson recently said that the Lakers "needed a face of the franchise, someone like Jerry West or Phil Jackson, to help sell the brand to free agents during dollar-driven summers." In L.A., Bresnahan & Rohlin note Johnson then "stepped forward" yesterday to fill that role. Johnson said, "I told [GM] Mitch Kupchak that last week. First they have to make up their mind on who they want, and then they tell me, just like I recruited Ron Artest, I talked to Lamar Odom." He added, "I've been in a lot of different things with the Lakers, but it's up to them -- [Exec VP/Player Personnel Jim Buss], Mitch, Coach (Mike) D'Antoni to decide who they want. Once they make their decision, they say, 'Hey, Earvin, can you put in a call to so and so?'" (L.A. TIMES, 2/6).
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Franchises, Los Angeles Sparks, WNBA

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