Client: Chicago Red Stars
Source: Chicago Sun-Times
The Cubs co-owner also has an ownership stake in the WNBA’s Sky.
After a nearly two-year tailspin, the Red Stars are being rerouted. And the direction looks nothing like the past.
Laura Ricketts, a co-owner of the Cubs and a recent addition to the Sky’s ownership group, is adding the Red Stars to her pro sports portfolio and leading a diverse group — made up predominantly of women — in the purchase of the National Women’s Soccer League club.
News of the imminent sale, which is expected to be finalized in the next two to three weeks, provides closure to a nearly two-year descent from one of the most consistently successful franchises in the NWSL to a cautionary tale.
A league source said the group is making a $60 million investment, with up to $35.5 million being used to buy out current owners, including all previous minority owners. The other $25 million will be a direct investment into the team. The sale is subject to approval from the NWSL’s board of governors.
‘‘I am honored to lead this group of Chicago business and civic leaders in our effort to purchase the Chicago Red Stars,’’ Ricketts said in a statement. ‘‘Our respective backgrounds in professional sports, finance, turnaround management, commercial real estate, marketing and advertising, paired with our deep community ties, make for a powerful combination that will serve us well in our ultimate goal: building a championship organization on and off the pitch.’’
The Red Stars’ fall into near-collapse was brought on by the failure of their soon-to-be previous majority owner, Arnim Whisler, to protect players from verbal and emotional abuse under former coach Rory Dames.
Whisler began the process of selling the club nearly a year ago after being urged to do so by the Red Stars’ board of directors and roster. His forced decision followed the release of a scathing report from former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates detailing systemic abuse in the league.
The report exposed that Whisler had explicit knowledge of Dames verbally and emotionally abusing players dating to 2014. Despite that knowledge, Whisler kept Dames on staff until he was permitted to resign with a statement at 11:54 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2021, hours before a Washington Post report was published detailing claims of his abuse that later were corroborated in Yates’ report.
One of the founding members of the NWSL, the Red Stars played in six semifinals and two title games — including one days before Dames resigned in 2021 — in 2015-21. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season, and an exodus of their stalwarts followed.
During the NWSL’s newly established free-agency period — a result of the league and the players’ union ratifying the first collective-bargaining agreement — Danielle Colaprico signed with the San Diego Wave and Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo with the Kansas City Current.
Beyond the abuse that was permitted to fester on the team, Whisler failed to invest in the basic necessities to make the club enticing to free agents.
‘‘The organization, the ownership, the facilities, everything in Kansas City is world-class,’’ Gautrat said when she signed with the Current in December. ‘‘I’ve always wanted to experience something like this where the support is there, the resources are there and the team is there.’’
In total, there are nine women joining Ricketts in pursuit of the purchase, including fellow Sky minority owner Laura Desmond, the chair and CEO of smartly.io. Ricketts and Desmond invested in the Sky in June, when owners sold a 10% share in the team to the new ownership group at an $85 million valuation.
There is a possibility that select minority owners who bought in during Whisler’s tenure might reinvest down the line, but not in the near term. The intention is for the new ownership group to start fresh.
Ricketts’ involvement brings a knowledge and expectation about what it takes to operate a sports franchise successfully and to turn it into a household name. According to Sportico, the Cubs are valued at $4.7 billion, the fourth-most valuable franchise in MLB.
While that didn’t happen overnight and that same recipe can’t be copied and pasted to the Sky and Red Stars, it indicates where both franchises are headed.
‘‘Building a championship culture begins with treating our players with the respect they deserve as women and athletes,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘We look forward to completing this transaction so that we can begin this new chapter for the team and the fans.’’