To help answer this question, let's first look at past WNBA cities, why they folded or relocated. Then let's see whether the city is a good candidate to get another team in the future. Lastly, let's take a look at possible new ownership for any team in Los Angeles, whether it's a group that can keep the Sparks in Los Angeles, or perhaps for a future team there whenever the WNBA expands, or perhaps if an existing team relocates.
Past WNBA cities
So far, three other cities have had teams that relocated, and six more have teams that folded so here they are:
Cities with teams that were relocated elsewhere
1. Detroit (had the Shock from 1998-2009 when it relocated to Tulsa)
2. Orlando (had the Miracle from 1999-2002 when it relocated to the Mohegan Sun Casino and is now the Connecticut Sun)
3. Salt Lake City (had the Utah Starzz from 1997-2002 when it relocated to San Antonio and is now known as the Stars)
Cities with teams that folded
1. Charlotte (had the Sting from 1997-2006)
2. Cleveland (had the Rockers from 1997-2003)
3. Houston (had the Comets from 1997-2008)
4. Miami (had the Sol from 2000-2002)
5. Portland (had the Fire from 2000-2002)
6. Sacramento (had the Monarchs from 1997-2009)
Los Angeles would be the fourth city with a team that relocates, assuming everything goes well with the Golden State Warriors. Or if things fall through, LA would be the seventh city to have a team fold.
Why did WNBA teams relocate or fold in the past?
Previously, on Sparks Watch
Day 16: Will Sparks STH's get their money back?
If they relocate or fold of course. Simply put, we'd be shocked if they didn't get their money back.
Previously, on Sparks Watch
As you can see, four franchises folded or relocated in 2002. This was in part because of the Fraser vs. Major League Soccer case, which made a significant impact on WNBA team ownership as a federal court ruled that the league engaged in monopolistic practices toward players including team salaries among other things. Before that decision, all 16 WNBA teams were owned by the NBA Board of Governors, or all the NBA team owners collectively. However, after that decision, NBA Commissioner David Stern changed the ownership structure so that all teams had to be independently owned, as opposed to a collective group, like the NBA Board of Governors.
Like with any franchise folding or relocating, especially in a non-Big Four league, the main reason is because ownership is not interested in owning the team anymore and wants to cut its losses.
We saw Miami and Portland fold for that reason and no ownership could be found. The very next year, Cleveland did the same thing. Orlando and Utah were in the same situation, but they found buyers who moved the teams in 2003 and those teams are still playing today.
Two of the later franchise foldings came as a result of ownership's financial insolvency which included the Houston Comets in the 2008-2009 offseason and the Sacramento Monarchs in the next year. The Charlotte Sting also cited this as a reason why they folded in the 2006-2007 offseason, but this franchise was in a state of purgatory in 2002 to 2003 when the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans. Then Robert Johnson, founder of BET, bought the team when the Charlotte Bobcats were founded in 2003.
In the case of the Detroit Shock's relocation to Tulsa, their owner Bill Davidson passed away in March 2009, and his widow, Karen, did not have an interest in owning the Shock or the Pistons NBA team, and she sold the WNBA team first, which then went to Tulsa.
If the Sparks do move or relocate, will Los Angeles be a top priority to get an expansion team or the next team that is up for relocation?
I would imagine that Los Angeles would be at the top of the list of cities for the WNBA to return to should it leave, in large part because it is the second largest market and metropolitan area in the United States. Without having a team in a large market, in particular for a non-Big Four league, there will be very little interest.
So here's an example. Even with the Bay Area, another large market, a good number of NBA fans said that a major reason why they didn't follow the WNBA was because there was no WNBA team to support, rather than because they had disdain for the league. Click here on SBN's Golden State of Mind, our Warriors blog and you will see multiple responses along those lines. And for me personally, I don't think I would be that interested in the WNBA either if there wasn't a team in the Washington, D.C. area when the league was being formed. Just putting my two cents on this too.
But there is another major thing that I didn't say yet. The WNBA has never returned to any market where it has left. With the exception of Sacramento, and I'm skeptical there too, I haven't heard of any major movement to bring a team back to any WNBA city at all recently. And if there was an expansion team opportunity out there, and assuming Sacramento still wants a WNBA team along with LA, which city should get that team if only one was available? Sacramento because the city has waited longer, or LA because of the size of the metropolitan area?
Why is there no one "stepping up" to buy the Sparks and keep the team in Los Angeles, at least publicly right now?
That certainly is a legitimate question. First, we would imagine that the richest sports magnates in the area, such as the Buss Family which owns the Lakers; Donald Sterling who owns the Clippers; AEG which owns the Staples Center and the Kings NHL team; Magic Johnson who holds a stake in the Dodgers and also is a major entrepreneur; or Henry Samueli who owns the Anaheim Ducks, could buy the team in an act of public trust and then be viewed as saviors for the franchise. But so far, none of them have been reported to be interested in them for whatever reason.
Even if any or all of them like the WNBA, we cannot force them to buy something they don't want. Like James said in Day 12, rich people don't want others "telling them how to spend their money." That almost forces another entity to step up and own the team, even if it ends up being another "smaller ownership group" like those we see in Seattle and Atlanta.
However, over the past two weeks of Sparks Watch, we also have laid out many of the concerns that any new Sparks owners would have to deal with, in particular a smaller owner like Paula Madison was. For example in Day 8, we talked about other arenas where the team could play, and any WNBA L.A. team has to consider that given the size of the market.
But ultimately, if there is any possible ownership group out there who will keep this team in L.A., that group needs to have the financial resources to do so, but it also needs to be able to understand the dynamics of the market like James pointed out in Day 6.
The Wrap Up
These are the things I think about on this topic. But what do you all think? Can the LA market get another team sooner rather than later if the Sparks relocate? Comment below!
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