Ownership group gives up WNBA franchise

Laurel Richie, president of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), has confirmed that the Los Angeles Sparks' ownership group has given up control of the franchise.

Richie told the Associated Press news agency that Sparks chairman Paula Madison informed the league before Christmas that her family-owned company would no longer be associated with the team. Madison informed Richie that the team had lost $12m (€8.8m) since she took control in 2007 and that her family could not sustain the losses any longer. All front office personnel at the Sparks, including the team’s president and general manager, were relieved of their duties on New Year’s Eve via an e-mail. Players and coaching staff have been paid and their benefits will be taken care of by the league.

“This is a sad time for my family because we want LA to have a thriving championship women's basketball team, and, most importantly, we had hoped to continue employing these great behind-the-scenes employees who worked tirelessly on behalf of women's basketball,” Madison said. “We absolutely hope we can find a buyer who would want to keep the team in L.A. and manage the team. We want to work cooperatively with WNBA.” Madison became the Sparks’ chairman in 2007 as part of an ownership group that included Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson as well as former star Lisa Leslie. Sparks had reached the play-offs in five of the past six seasons under the ownership of Madison.

Richie said he was “surprised” by the announcement due to the league’s current status, with both attendance and viewership of the WNBA both up. He said that several groups had expressed an interest in owning a WNBA team and the league would explore these options in regards to the Sparks. Richie did not confirm whether the Sparks would play in the new season, which is due to begin in four months. “I'd rather not speculate on that,” Richie said. “What I can tell you is our team is working steadily and in a dedicated manner to move through all this and truly explore all our options with respect to the Sparks.”