New investor group signals Sky’s commitment to becoming an upper-echelon WNBA franchise

The Sky’s new valuation of $85 million conducted by Chicago investment bank Loop Capital makes it the second-highest in the league behind the Storm.

SHARE New investor group signals Sky’s commitment to becoming an upper-echelon WNBA franchise
Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts is among the new investors in the Sky.

Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts is among the new investors in the Sky.

Brian Kersey/AP

The upper-echelon WNBA franchises are easy to identify, and for a long time, the Sky weren’t one of them.

On Tuesday, the news that Sky ownership had sold a 10% share of the team for $8.5 million to a group of new investors — all women, including Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts — signaled that’s changing.

“The time is now to really look at what’s next — investing in those areas that we’ve long wanted to, but now we have the ability and flexibility to,” operating chairman and co-owner Nadia Rawlinson told the Sun-Times. “This is our time to do it. Other teams have had their timelines, and this is ours.”

The Sky’s new valuation of $85 million by Chicago investment bank Loop Capital is the second-highest in the league that has been publicly announced. The Storm is the first, but the league has other teams that haven’t disclosed valuations or raised public capital that could exceed both the Sky and Storm.

Along with Ricketts, the new investors are Foot Locker CEO Mary Dillon; Laura Desmond, CEO of Smartly.io and founder and CEO of private equity firm Eagle Vista Partners; Cari Sacks, board chair for Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art; Tina Tchen, former president and CEO of Time’s Up and now chief strategy and impact officer for the Obama Foundation and principal at Seneca Strategies; and Anne Sempowski Ward, CEO of Curio Brands.

Michael Alter will remain the Sky’s principal owner. According to Sportico, Rawlinson and long-time minority owner John Rogers invested additional money, but Rawlinson declined to specify who increased their investments.

This sale, and the addition of Rawlinson as co-owner, is still subject to the approval of the WNBA’s board of governors which consists of all 12 majority team owners.

“This is patient capital,” Rawlinson said. “It’s here for the long term. This isn’t one-and-done or an ego play where they’re trying to say, ‘Oh, I’m part of a sports franchise.’ They’re here to invest in the future.”

The Sky will use the new capital to target three key areas: fan engagement and marketing, player experience and personnel.

In five months since joining the Sky, Rawlinson has visited multiple arenas — notably the Liberty’s Barclays Arena in Brooklyn and the Dream’s Gateway Center Arena in Atlanta — to learn from other WNBA teams. She believes the ones that set themselves apart are the ones that tap into a unique culture defined by their fans.

For the Sky, that means immersion in the community. They plan to take a step further in those efforts with their “tentpole initiative,” the development of their own practice facility. To that end, they’ve been scouting locations in Chicago, with a priority to build or rent a space near Wintrust Arena. The goal is for the space is to be more than a facility that strictly serves the Sky.

“We do have some elements that will be open to the community — not just that we’re in the community because we have our location here, but literally, the doors will be open to the community and people can use our facility in various ways,” Rawlinson said. “There are a couple of different options on the table that we’re looking at.”

Since James Wade joined the Sky as coach and general manager in 2018, he has been adamant the team is the premier WNBA organization, citing their central location in the U.S. and the city’s diversity and culture as draws for free agents. He sees the new investment as a way for the Sky to further separate themselves.

“I think [Sky ownership] has done nothing but put everything into making this a top-tier organization,” Wade said. “They’ve taken risk bringing people in, whether it’s relocating the team to the city [from Rosemont’s Allstate Arena] or supplying resources that other major teams have and other major teams don’t have. We’ve done our best, and we’re continuing to grow.”

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