Magic Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Tom Brady among the former pro athletes who have become WNBA owners

Magic Johnson’s love of basketball motivated him to save the Los Angeles Sparks from folding and also put him on the leading edge of what is now a growing WNBA trend.

Ten years after becoming the majority owner the team’s value has increased and other former professional athletes are buying into the league. The WNBA is positioning itself to be a good long-term investment with a looming TV deal and increased attention around a rookie class headlined by Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese.

“It wasn’t before,” Johnson said about the WNBA being a good investment in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “It was, we love the game. We love women’s basketball, we love the fact that we had a chance to buy the Sparks when it was the No. 1 brand. The brand everyone knows, but now it’s a great investment. It’s only going to get better.”

Others have taken notice the last few years.

Dwyane Wade is a partial owner of the Chicago Sky, buying in last year. Tom Brady did the same with the Las Vegas Aces. Alex Rodriguez is a limited partner with the Minnesota Lynx.

Former WNBA players Sue Bird and Renee Montgomery have joined the ownership groups of the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream, respectively.

“They know the game is exploding, they know this is the right time,” Johnson said.

Sportico valued four teams at over $100 million. Ownership groups of the expansion teams in Golden State and Toronto that will begin play in 2025 and 2026 anted up over $100 million that included record-breaking expansion fees, investment in the player experience, best-in-class facilities, and start-up business operations costs. The Dream were the last expansion team and that ownership group paid a $10 million entry fee in 2008, which didn’t include the operational costs.

Marc Ganis, the president and co-founder of the sports business consulting firm Sportscorp, said the WNBA looks to be on the right path to become a good long-term investment but is still being subsidized by the NBA. He said a new TV deal would go a long way in increasing team values.

Ganis is not surprised by growing numbers of pro athletes joining ownership groups.

“There are multiple purposes behind former athletes and current ones investing in smaller sports and particularly women’s sports,” he said. “For the most part they aren’t investing a lot of money and they are getting a tremendous amount of social credit. They are getting value out of it even if the finances of the team itself don’t work out.”

Wade and Johnson both say they know there are other former players looking to invest in the WNBA. Tennis great Serena Williams said a month ago she was “super-interested” in getting involved with team ownership.

“I think it’s a great sign and signal that it’s a smart business investment,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “You can’t turn on a broadcast of a sporting event without some ad spot. It wasn’t happening at all when I came into this league. Really thrilled about that. Everyone is talking about the WNBA, the good and the bad.”

While Johnson got involved to save a franchise, Brady said his part of his interest in women’s sports goes back in part to his sisters.

“My love for sports began when I was kid, tagging along to my older sisters’ games,” the seven-time Super Bowl champion wrote in an email. “I have always been a huge fan and supporter of women’s sports. When I went to my first Aces game, I was so energized by their fans and inspired by the incredible talent of the players.

“The WNBA continues to expand and make a global impact, showing its commitment to empowering future generations of athletes. I am very proud to be a member of the Aces family and help grow the sport.”

Wade had always been a fan of his hometown team the Chicago Sky. His mother, JoLinda, got season tickets when the franchise first came into existence in 2006 and it was important to the Hall of Fame NBA player that his mom and sister also had ownership stakes in the team.

“I would love to do this, but only if my mom and my sister can be a part of this, you know, in a way that they really feel a part of it and not just to get to a game,” Wade said of his discussions with the Sky ownership group. “And so they graciously said yes and and to be a part of the ownership group. I love that my mom can walk around and say she’s invested into the Chicago Sky.”

Montgomery saw the potential value of the WNBA as a player in the league before she made the move to the ownership side with the Dream.

“Investing works well when you see the trend coming,” she said. “Me being in women’s sports I understand the game, understand the value of the women’s game. People didn’t see that value that I saw before the wave happened.”

Being owners in the league has also provided the group of former pros a chance to have friendly rivalries with each other.

“I love beating my friends,” Johnson said laughing. “Right now I can’t say nothing about Tom since they are back to back champions.”

Brady echoed Johnson’s sentiment.

“Who’s not a fan of a little trash talk?! Magic knows it’s all in good fun, and the Aces make it too easy!” Brady said in the email. “The players are phenomenal athletes with an amazing work ethic. They continue to prove they are the toughest team to compete against and I get to be in a front row seat watching and admiring.””

Wade’s Sky beat Johnson’s Sparks in the team’s first meeting last month. They won’t play again until after the Olympic break next month.

“Of course. You want to be able to send that text message,” Wade said smiling. “That’s the cool thing, it’s an unwritten, unspoken thing when your teams are playing each other there’s an automatic (trash) talking.”



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