Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson has become the first African American woman to own a stake in three professional sports teams through a partnership with Lincoln Holdings L.L.C., an organization that owns the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and part of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
Lincoln Holdings announced in May that it would buy the Mystics from Washington Sports & Entertainment. The organization already owns the Capitals and 45% of the Wizards. Johnson’s stake in Lincoln Holdings is reportedly between 5% and 10%. “Sheila is an owner of three professional sports teams, so it is a historic day in professional sports,” says Lincoln Holdings Chairman Ted Leonsis.
According to NBA Commissioner David Stern, the price tag for the Mystics was $10 million.
Johnson wants her ownership deal to open the door for other black women to attain decision making positions in sports. “I hope that this is a signal that it’s about time that a woman, and an African American woman, is part of this whole scene of sports,” she says.
In addition to her ownership stake, Johnson will take on the titles of president, managing partner, and governor of the Mystics. As governor, she will represent the team at WNBA owners’ meetings.
Abe Pollin, chairman of Washington Sports & Entertainment, says he handpicked Johnson to be a part of the team’s new ownership. “We think it’s past time for an African American woman to own a WNBA team, and we sought her out,” Pollin says. The partnership with Lincoln Holdings evolved after Pollin approached Johnson to determine her interest in buying into the Mystics.
A high-profile African American woman becoming the public face of a WNBA team is a plus for the league and for the sports industry in general, says Tony McClean, a columnist for Black Athlete Sports Network.
“It’s still a million-dollar boy’s club that exists in the sports arena, especially in the decision making process,” he says. “Blacks probably make up 70% or 80% of [the players] but barely 5% or 10% of the decision making process.”
However, the WNBA, with its focus on the achievements of women, might be a good place for African American women to excel in the back office, ownership, and on the court, McClean says.
Johnson co-founded BET with her ex-husband, Robert L. Johnson. Today, she is chief executive officer of Salamander Hospitality L.L.C., which oversees the luxury Salamander Inn and Spa project that she’s developing in Middleburg, Virginia.
PROMINENT BLACK OWNERS
As Sheila Johnson becomes the first African American female owner of a WNBA team, African American males have achieved greater success breaking these barriers and acquiring ownership in major sports franchises.
In late 2002, Bob Johnson — ex-husband of Sheila Johnson and co-founder of BET — became the first African American with majority ownership in an NBA team. Johnson purchased the Charlotte Bobcats for an estimated $300 million.
Rappers Nelly and Jay-Z, and R&B singer Usher put up millions to solidify minority ownership in NBA teams. Nelly joined forces with Johnson’s Bobcats, while Jay-Z stayed close to the East Coast