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Sparks Watch Day 13: What impact does Joe Lacob have on a future WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Over this past weekend, we have learned that Joe Lacob is trying to buy the Los Angeles Sparks, with the intention of moving the franchise to the San Francisco Bay Area within the next two to three weeks. Now, let's take a look at the impact he may have on the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations going on between the WNBA team owners and the players' union.

Joe Lacob (left) will join (From top right going clockwise) Glen Taylor, Herb Simon, Peter Holt, Ted Leonsis, Jim Dolan, and Robert Sarver as majority owners of WNBA teams who also own an NBA team and this could make an impact on the pending CBA.
Joe Lacob (left) will join (From top right going clockwise) Glen Taylor, Herb Simon, Peter Holt, Ted Leonsis, Jim Dolan, and Robert Sarver as majority owners of WNBA teams who also own an NBA team and this could make an impact on the pending CBA.
See bottom of article for photo credits

With a franchise ownership change pending, here are the four biggest points I am seeing from this:

1. This will be the first time that a non-NBA team owner has sold a team to an NBA team owner.

Over the past decade, the WNBA has lauded ownership changes, in particular when teams were sold to women for the first time. These include the 2006-2007 offseason when Jerry Buss sold the Los Angeles Sparks to Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman who owned the team before Paula Madison became the majority owner; the 2007-2008 offseason when Clay Bennett sold the Seattle Storm to Dawn Trudeau, Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder, and Anne Levinson. Levinson left the group after the 2010 season.

Then in the 2009-2010 offseason, Ron Terwilliger the founding owner of the Atlanta Dream divested his ownership stake, which was eventually sold to Kathy Betty, a former consulting executive and the widow of Earthlink CEO Garry Betty. Betty eventually left the Dream and transferred her ownership to Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler who are the franchise's current owners.

In the past, we have seen a number of NBA team owners sell their teams to non-NBA team owners, and perhaps it may be because they felt that the WNBA is something they just can't make money out of. But we may also be seeing a reversal of that trend with Joe Lacob buying the Sparks. And then we also have another NBA team owner, Vivek Ranadivé of the Sacramento Kings who also is believed to want a team sooner rather than later. Ranadivé also happened to be one of the minority owners of the Warriors until this past offseason.

2. If Lacob does indeed buy the Sparks, most of the 12 owners will be NBA team owners.

Currently, NBA team owners own six, or half of the WNBA's 12 teams. They are:

  • Herb Simon, who owns the Indiana Fever
  • Glen Taylor, who owns the Minnesota Lynx
  • Madison Square Garden Company (Jim Dolan is the CEO) which owns the New York Liberty
  • Robert Sarver, who owns the Phoenix Mercury
  • Peter Holt, who owns the San Antonio Silver Stars
  • Ted Leonsis, who owns the Washington Mystics (Sheila Johnson is the governor for the team)
  • Once you add Joe Lacob, that number goes to seven, and he would replace Paula Madison, who from hindsight is not wealthy enough to own a WNBA team. Of the remaining five teams not owned by an NBA team owner, some of them could be quite wealthy themselves. One of the easy targets is the Mohegan Tribe, which owns the Connecticut Sun. The tribe also owns the Mohegan Sun Casino and the arena where the team plays so it can have a team and no rent expenses, like Madison Square Garden and Ted Leonsis, team owners who also own their arenas.

    Either way you look at it, adding a very rich owner who replaces one who is not as rich could change what owners are willing to give to the players in collective bargaining and that isn't going to go unnoticed. Therefore, the players will likely see this ownership change as a possible opportunity to have the owners invest more money into the league, and to them.

    3. The CBA agreement will be delayed until after Lacob buys the team.

    Given that Lacob would buy the Sparks during the middle of collective bargaining, he is going to want to have a say in negotiations. Therefore, the owners may want to hold out in order to let him have his say.

    Perhaps any delay in negotiations, and an agreement could be mitigated if he is already aware of the talking points between both sides and it would not be surprising if this is in fact the case.

    4. It may also be in the players' interest to delay a CBA agreement.

    Most of the time, it is in the interest for both the players union and the league reach a collective bargaining agreement as soon as possible. But because of the ownership change in this circumstance, when a smaller owner is being replaced by a bigger one based on wealth, it may be in the interest for the players to want to wait as well.

    As stated out in point 2, an additional NBA team owner will create at a minimum, the perception that the WNBA team owners are willing to spend more money in various areas that could improve the game. For example, we have complained about the 11 man rosters which have been in place since 2009.

    While we didn't see too much of an impact right away at that time, in 2013, most teams suffered injuries to significant players for a good amount of the season and it quite possibly lowered the quality of play throughout the league, as injury replacement players were often not acclimated to the system of the teams they played on.

    Another thing we could also see is a significant bump in player salaries over the course of the next CBA, whether it's all around, or for some designated star players. Even if we didn't have hindsight, even if Paula Madison was still in a position to own the Sparks right now, she probably would be less likely to want 12 or 13 players on a roster, or significantly increased player salaries, as opposed to the richer WNBA team owners.

    This is speculation on my part, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the WNBA players wanting to wait right now on a new CBA, while some WNBA team owners, in particular smaller ones like Seattle and Atlanta may want to get this done sooner so they would not have to spend more given this type of change in the ownership ranks.


    It is definitely a tense environment in the WNBA right now, given that the Sparks are in limbo, and there's also a CBA agreement to be made so free agency and trades can happen. But the ownership change here is also very significant, and that new owner could also be a major factor to help spearhead new investments in the league that would improve the product on the floor and enhance league stability over the long run.

    (Photo credits: Large Left photo - Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports. Top Row photos from left to right: Brett Davis, USA Today Sports; Brian Spurlock, US Presswire; Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images. Bottom Row photos from left to right: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports; Andrew Burton, Getty Images; Rob Carr, Getty Images.)