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Don’t Play for a Pro Team. Own One…

March 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Money/Business, News, Sports, Weekly Columns

( Michael Jordan’s takeover of the Bobcats makes him the only black majority owner of a major U.S. sports franchise…

Michael Jordan, pro basketball’s greatest player, and a lackluster executive for two franchises, once said in a Nike commercial, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

He got another chance when his bid for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats was accepted. Although, how much he paid is in dispute. Forbes magazine set the Bobcats’ value at $175 million: a steep plunge from the $300 million Robert L. Johnson paid for the team in 2003.

The NBA won’t provide details, but a spokesman’s e-mail to The Root stated, “we expect the transaction will value the Bobcats at between $275-$290 million and that Michael Jordan is acquiring an 80 percent stake.”

The deal between Johnson, the first black majority owner of a major U.S. pro sports team, and NBA legend Michael Jordan, who earned hundreds of millions highlights why no other blacks own controlling shares in pro basketball, football or baseball teams.

During segregation, when fan interest was high, start-up costs were low, and there was scant competition, blacks started, bought and sold leagues and teams. Today’s pro sports owners–often billionaires–have access to enormous capital, influential associates and can manage the timing of a deal.

Since the 1980s, African Americans have controlled one or two of those ingredients, but the trio needed to be a majority owner eluded everyone except Johnson and Jordan. Blacks are, and have been, pro team limited partners. This is a look at some of those would-be owners, as well as individuals who decided to invest in teams in less expensive pro sports.

Taking and Making Their Shots Against the NBA

The first blacks to become managing general partners of a major pro sports franchise, if briefly, were Bertram Lee and Peter Bynoe. In 1989, the pair, with partners tennis pro Arthur Ashe and then-Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown, signed a deal to buy the Denver Nuggets for $65 million. After the financing became a problem, the duo’s investment partner, Comsat Corp., bought the team.

Between 1999 and 2002, Bob Johnson made three offers for the Bobcats’ predecessor, the Charlotte Hornets and was rebuffed by the owner, George Shinn. In 1999, Shinn also rejected Michael Jordan’s bid for a controlling interest in the Hornets.

In 2000, Jordan paid between $20 million and $30 million for a 10 percent stake in the Washington Wizards and became president of basketball operations. The deal also gave him a share of the National Hockey League Washington Capitals.

But Bob Johnson, the man who sold Black Entertainment Television to Viacom for $3 billion, is persistent. In 2003, after Shinn decamped to New Orleans with the Hornets, Johnson became the majority owner of the expansion NBA Charlotte Bobcats, and later the Charlotte Sting of the WNBA. African-American members of the multi-ethnic investment team included former Boston Celtic, ML Carr, rapper Nelly, as well as two prominent African Americans from the area.

In 2006, Jordan purchased equity in the Bobcats. As the Bobcats’ owner, he may recruit black limited partners.

In the 1980s, Edward Gardner and his wife, Bettian, co-founder of Soft Sheen, the black hair company, became part owners of the Chicago Bulls. Magic Johnson purchased part of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1994, and the next year Isiah Thomas bought 10 percent of the Toronto Raptors. Jay-Z and Bill Cosby have made investments in the New Jersey Nets. David Robinson has a piece of the San Antonio Spurs, and singer Usher owsn part of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Other teams that have had or have black co-owners include the Memphis Grizzlies and the Atlanta Hawks.

Since 2005, Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of BET and ex-wife of Robert Johnson, has owned interests in several teams. She is the team president, managing partner and governor of the WNBA Washington Mystics, and she co-owns the NHL Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. In 2009, Forbes reported the average value (equity plus debt) of an NBA team to be $367 million.

Taking Swings for a Major League Baseball Team

Blacks have owned pro baseball teams since the Negro League era. But a push for ownership of MLB teams began in the 1980s. During that time, Bill Cosby wanted to buy the Baltimore Orioles, but was told he had insufficient capital.

Reggie Jackson, MLB Hall of Famer, struck out twice in attempts to own a pro baseball team. In 1997, he led a group that had $305 million to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Rupert Murdoch offered $311 million. Another Jackson group failed in a bid to buy the Oakland Athletics, five years later.

In 2006, a multiethnic group paid $450 million for the Washington Nationals. The value of the average Major League Baseball team is $480 million. The buyers include six black limited partners: former Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater, NFL Today host James Brown; a lobbyist, a BET executive, an information-technology entrepreneur, and the CEO of Washington’s largest black-owned bank.

MLB has few other black co-owners. They have included Hall of Fame player Hank Aaron, an Atlanta Braves co-owner, and individuals with pieces of the Braves, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays.

In 2003, Arte Moreno became the first Hispanic majority owner of a big three pro team when he purchased the Los Angeles Angels.

NFL Owners Want To Score and Win

The crown jewels of American sports are the 32 NFL teams, which have an average value of more than $1 billion.

At one time, serial entrepreneur J. Bruce Llewellyn seemed the most likely to buy an NFL team. He had owned supermarkets, media outlets and the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. which had annual sales above $500 million.

During the late 1980s, Sports Business Journal reports that Llewellyn rejected buying the Seattle Seahawks because he thought the $80 million price tag was too much. A decade later, Llewellyn and his son-in-law, author Tom Clancy, made a run at the Minnesota Vikings. The deal collapsed when Llewellyn underwent emergency heart surgery.

In 2005, it appeared that Arizona entrepreneur Reggie Fowler tried to buy the Minnesota Vikings. After the deal unraveled, he became a Vikings limited partner.

Four years later, David Steward, founder and chairman of $2.5 billion World Wide Technology was part of a group looking to buy the St. Louis Rams. The same year Alabama entrepreneur Donald Watkins was part of another group after the Rams. Neither man succeeded.

NFL teams have a number of black limited partners. In 1994, Bill Simms, an insurance company executive, bought a 5 percent share of the New Orleans Saints. He was invited to sit at the NFL table by Jerry Richardson, the Saints’ majority owner. Richardson was CEO of the parent company of Denny’s, which had been sued by black customers for discrimination. As part of an agreement with the NAACP, Richardson promised that a black would be invited to invest in the team.

Serena and Venus Williams, along with Gloria and Emilio Esteban, are limited partners in the Miami Dolphins, and all wrote seven-figure checks for the honor.

President George Bush’s favorite preacher, Kirbyjon Caldwell, is a Houston Texans limited partner. Since 1994, Deron Cherry, a former all-pro linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs, has been minority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

There Are Other Sports, including NASCAR

Victor B. MacFarlane took a different shot at the goal of owning a pro sports team. In 2007, the real estate investment management mogul and his partner, Will Chang, split the $33 million price for DC United of Major League Soccer. Two years later, MacFarlane, whose real estate business has seen reversals, sold his shares to Chang.

Speed thrills. At least that is what Walter Payton, Brad Daugherty, Michael Jordan and Randy Moss found as the owners of high-speed racing teams. In 1995, Payton became a co-owner of the Payton/Coyne Racing in the CART Indy Car World Series. Four years earlier, “Sweetness” tried his hand as a race car driver.

Daugherty, a former NBA All-Star center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is co-owner of JTG Racing. In 1988, he went from the court to the track with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team. Daugherty is also a NASCAR analyst for ESPN.

There is no doubt that Randy Moss is a gridiron burner, and the 50 percent co-owner of Randy Moss Motor Sports takes the race track just as seriously. Two years ago, the NFL New England Patriots All-Pro receiver invested in David Dollar’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team.

Finally, Michael Jordan appears to feel that his business should be local. In 2004, he started Michael Jordan Motorsports, as the sole owner. The company fields two motorcycle racing teams that participate in the top category of the American Superbike class. Jordan also rides.

Written By Frank McCoy

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