If you follow the WNBA, you undoubtedly have heard the news about Los Angeles Sparks chairman Paula Madison informing the WNBA that the current Sparks ownership was no longer associated with the team. This isn't so much "giving the team back to the league" as it is "walking away". This leaves the WNBA trying to find an owner for the team before the 2014 season.
According to Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press, Madison informed the league of her decision right before Christmas. In effect, the WNBA knew about the decision for at least a week before it went public. The Los Angeles Times reports:
"This was a big surprise to us," WNBA President Laurel Richie said Thursday. "Right before the holidays, I got a call from Paula letting me know that she and her family were no longer in a position to continue with the Sparks."
Madison stated: "After we went through the budgeting process we saw we'd lose over a million again in 2014...we lost our marquee sponsorship with Farmer's because they had to redirect local spending to Farmer's Field." Farmer's Field is a sports and events stadium which is being built in Los Angeles with a capacity of 72,000.
According to WNBA President Laurel Richie, "I didn't have any prior communication from the team that this was going to happen."
On New Year's Eve, everyone associated with the Sparks front office received an e-mail indicating that they were now laid off. The players and coaching staff, according to the link, have already been paid. The Times quote a copy of the e-mail which read, in part:
"As we discussed, we received notification that the WNBA LLC is terminating the Los Angeles Sparks membership and interest in the WNBA. As a result, Gemini Basketball LLC is closing its doors and no longer will be in business. Accordingly, we regret to inform you that effective December 31, 2013 you no longer will be employed by the Los Angeles Sparks."
Those laid off include:
* General Manager Penny Toler
* President Vincent Malcolm
* Carol Ross and her staff have been relieved of their coaching duties (although supposedly Ross has either already been paid or will continue to receive benefits)
Richie was rather up-front as to whether the team would be playing in the 2014 season.
"I'd rather not speculate on that," she 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."
So here's what we know.
* We know that Madison informed the league sometime before Christmas.
* The reasons were financial losses, and we now have hard numbers on those losses as well as a general idea of the health of the Sparks.
* We now have the reason given by Farmers Insurance for dropping their jersey sponsorship.
* We know that the staff was laid off in an e-mail on December 31st.
* We know that Toler and Malcom, and the coaching staff are jobless.
Beyond this point: speculation. Supposedly, Richie is talking to "a handful" of people who have expressed interest in owning a WNBA franchise. However, Richie has given no assurance that the Sparks will be around in 2014. All options, including relocation, new ownership, the league stepping in to run the Sparks, or folding the team are on the table.
Therefore...we keep our lonely watch and all eyes are turned toward Los Angeles. Hopefully, we'll have some good news from the league and this crisis - for it is a crisis - will be over soon.
UPDATE (4 pm ET):
From Doug Feinberg at the AP again:
"[Paula] Madison credits WNBA President Laurel Richie for improving the financial situation of the league, but it wasn't enough.
"The deal with Boost Mobile and ESPN, had those things not happened and been passed on to the team, this would have happened much sooner," Madison said.
"Now, almost seven years later, we’re still not profitable, even though we have consistent attendance, just not lucrative enough to support the business," [Madison] said. "No investors have ever received any profits. We never took any salary."
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