The pros and cons of NBA-WNBA ownership models
The GIST: As the WNBA expands its domain, Front Office Sports explored how opinions are split on the optimal franchise ownership model: Is it better to be co-owned with an NBA team or to fly solo? There’s pros and cons to both, so let’s dive in.
The examples: The new Golden State team will be the sixth WNBA team under NBA ownership, while the proposed Portland team may be independently owned. The New York Liberty have flourished under Brooklyn Nets owners Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai, while the Las Vegas Aces have thrived without an NBA counterpart.
- Mat Ishbia — who bought the Phoenix Suns and Mercury earlier this year — illustrates how a good owner matters more than the right ownership model. Ishbia is investing more than $100M to build a state-of-the-art Mercury practice facility and pledging charter flights, a major step up from previous owner Robert Sarver.
NBA–WNBA pros: Premium facilities and expansive arenas are a major plus for the NBA–WNBA model, especially for a superteam that takes up space like the Liberty. Aside from sharing fans and facilities, combining brand power is a surefire way to grow the game.
NBA–WNBA cons: In the past, faulty WNBA owners often neglected teams in favor of NBA counterparts — think James Dolan. By contrast, independent ones are typically dedicated: the Seattle Storm is getting a new $64M arena, the Aces enjoy the first WNBA–centric headquarters, and the Atlanta Dream are prospering thanks to invested ownership.
- Plus, WNBA teams can thrive in markets that have an appetite for basketball but no existing NBA team. It’s no coincidence that the Storm are the league’s highest-valued team in a city that still waxes poetic over the SuperSonics...
The takeaway: Overall, the WNBA owners who have gotten the most out of their teams are the ones who put the most into them. The W doesn’t mandate a specific ownership model, but does want model owners to passionately invest in teams long-term. The league is only getting bigger, and yesterday’s price is not today’s price.