Client: Chicago Red Stars
Source: Chicago Sun-Times
This league has the potential to really break through in terms of being a really successful business,” Ricketts said. “I’ve invested in a lot of things that uplift women and focus on equity. For me, personally, this is in that sweet spot.”
News that Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts would be leading a group of high-powered Chicago women in the purchase of the Red Stars wasn’t met with immediate joy by the team.
‘‘The initial reaction was to question: ‘Is this actually happening?’ ’’ defender Arin Wright told the Sun-Times.
Wright was worried that reaction might shock some people.
Truth is, however, after enduring a nearly two-year fallout from news reports detailing verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of former coach Rory Dames — and an owner who turned a blind eye to it — the players couldn’t celebrate the sale until the ink was dry.
That happened Friday, when Ricketts officially became the new principal owner of the Red Stars to begin a new era of the National Women’s Soccer League in Chicago.
‘‘It’s been blow after blow after blow,’’ Wright said. ‘‘People can only take so many blows and hype themselves back up before they need something to be concrete in order to get excited again. That’s where this team is. We’re excited for the future and who it is. But in any kind of relationship, you can only get burned so many times until you say, ‘Let me take this slow.’ ’’
Ricketts was paying close attention when news began circulating last fall that former owner Arnim Whisler was being asked by players and the Red Stars’ board of directors to step down.
Shortly after those public pleas, Whisler began the process of selling the club.
Ricketts told the Sun-Times she was there ‘‘from the very beginning’’ and began organizing a diverse, women-led group of investors with a shared vision for the team’s future.
Overall, the group is investing $60 million in the Red Stars. The purchase price of $35 million will buy out current owners; the other $25 million will be invested in the team.
When asked what that $25 million will be spent on, Ricketts said the owners must speak with the players before doing anything.
‘‘I want to let them know what this group of women is about, what motivates us,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘[I want to let them know] that we have their back, and we’re going to start a brand new chapter and take this team into the future.’’
There are questions Ricketts must answer soon, however, starting with whether the Red Stars will remain at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, where they have a lease.
SeatGeek presents several challenges to building a strong fan base. Most pressing is a lack of public-transportation options. The Fire, who play in MLS, paid more than $65 million to break their lease at SeatGeek and move games to Soldier Field, even though they still train in Bridgeview.
‘‘The stadium is the challenge/opportunity,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The Red Stars have a lot of challenges, but the flip side of that coin is opportunity. We’ll have to look at it. I can’t really answer that right now, but it’s certainly a top priority.’’
Ricketts’ commitment to the growth of women’s sports in the city is apparent. Earlier this summer, she became part of a new group of investors joining the Sky’s ownership.
On Aug. 20, Ricketts and Sidney Dillard, a fellow Red Stars investor, answered questions at a raucous Wintrust Arena during the Sky’s 79-73 loss to the Sun and made their intentions clear.
While equity and inclusion are pillars in the life’s work of every investor, both said the Red Stars are also an intelligent business opportunity.
‘‘This league has the potential to break in terms of being a really successful business,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘For me, personally, I’ve invested in a lot of things that focus on women and equity. This is in that sweet spot.’’