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Sky executives expect 2022 will be ‘best year yet’ for franchise

Michael Alter said season-ticket sales have doubled and estimated that the team has nearly sold out all of its floor seats for 2022. Adam Fox didn’t go into specifics about deals that are in the works but said there has been a record amount of sponsorship interest as the Sky head into the new year.

Chicago Sky Head coach James Wade holds up the trophy during a parade for their WNBA basketball championship, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS612
Chicago Sky Head coach James Wade holds up the trophy during a parade for their WNBA basketball championship, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS612
Ashlee Rezin, AP Photos

Expectations aren’t just high for coaches and players following a championship season, ownership and front-office staff need to up their game, too.

Sky principal owner Michael Alter and president/CEO Adam Fox are no exceptions. If Alter’s predictions are correct, 2022 will be the franchise's best year from a revenue perspective.

“We have targets in terms of where we want to be,” Alter said. “We have continually expanded those over the last several months. Because the business is doing so well, we keep saying ‘our targets need to be raised.’ ”

On Wednesday, the City Council agreed to lift the ban on sports betting, clearing the way for sportsbooks to open in and around all of Chicago's major sports venues.

Wintrust Arena doesn’t meet the seating capacity of at least 17,000 in the Sports Wagering Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The home of the Sky, with a capacity of just over 10,000, became eligible to apply for a sportsbook license when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed HB3136 into law Friday night.

Alter, although not pleased with the error that originally left the Sky out of the gaming expansion bill, has the goal of establishing a partnership with a sports-betting operator in the next six months.

“We’re just beginning those conversations,” Alter said. “Other teams have already entered into their partnerships. We have some catching up to do, and six months is aggressive but that’s our goal.”

Sports betting opens up an entirely new category of revenue for the Sky. In other established categories like ticket sales and sponsorships, the Sky have seen a boost since winning the franchise’s first WNBA championship in October.

Alter said season-ticket sales have doubled and estimated that the team has nearly sold out all of their floor seats for 2022. Fox didn’t go into specifics about deals that are in the works but said there has been a record amount of sponsorship interest as they head into the new year.

“The visibility and interest from fans, media and the corporate community has been higher than it’s been maybe ever,” Fox said.

The Sky lost 40% of their overall revenue in 2020 because fans were not allowed at games. In 2021, full fan attendance wasn’t permitted until mid-June in Chicago. The Sky closed out the year in front of sold-out crowds and are implementing measures to increase fans’ experience at Wintrust Arena next year, starting with creating extra premium seating.

Fox said the organization has seen an unprecedented level of demand for premium seating from season-ticket holders and prospective partners.

Alter expects the COVID-19 protocols to be similar to what they were last year, including Wintrust Arena having a full capacity crowd with masks and proof of vaccination. The Sky open their season on May 6 against the Los Angeles Sparks at Wintrust Arena. Despite fans looking forward to the drama that would ensue with the Sky receiving their championship rings in front of Candace Parker’s former team, the organization will not host its ring ceremony on opening night.

The top priority for the organization is ensuring all of the players who contributed to winning the team’s first WNBA title are back in market. Fox said various ideas for the ceremony have been kicked around but nothing has been solidified.

Alter listed goals one through five for the entire organization and they were the same: repeating as champions. The first step in that process is free agency.

“The last couple of years have been really challenging,” Fox said. “We look forward to seeing where we net out at the end of the coming year as things start to normalize a bit.”