Looks can be very deceiving in professional sports. A look at any NBA, NFL or MLB game shows African American athletes in abundance. Yet blacks are gravely underrepresented in professional sports ownership. Aside from a few examples, like Anheuser-Busch distributor Deron Cherry, who has an interest in the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, professional sports ownership is a field nearly devoid of an African American presence.
But one African American investment group has forged ahead and now has majority interest in a minor league hockey team.
Last year, the New Orleans Brass UC skated into the East Coast Hockey League, and propelled another 69 athletes to the NHL. Four African Americans own a majority stake in the Brass. Led by C. Ray Nagin, vice president of Cox Communications, the investment team includes Roy Rodney, managing partner of New Orleans-based Rodney, Bordenave, Boykin, Bennette & Boyle; David White, owner of several McDonald’s franchises; and Standford Barre, a local entrepreneur who owns a number of businesses in New Orleans. These four investors have a 51% interest in the team. A group of white Louisiana businessmen own 39%. The remaining 10% is also owned by African Americans.
Rodney says he and a different set of investors had been researching sports ownership franchises during the proposed move of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1996. Once that move fell through, Rodney set his sights on professional hockey, a sport he believes is gaining popularity with a fan base that’s slowly diversifying.
“We were excited by the sport and thought it was financially a better deal for our investors than any major or minor league basketball opportunity,” says Rodney, whose team had to come up with the $1.5 million expansion franchise fee. Annual operating costs for the first year hovered around $2 million and is expected to dip slightly to $1.6-$1.9 million. Brass officials expect to turn a small profit of a few hundred thousand dollars during the team’s inaugural season.
Lease of a building with league capacity and ice-making facilities are franchise requirements. Municipal Auditorium, which seats 6,000, is home to the New Orleans Brass. Revenues in the league are generated by a mix of walk-up and season-ticket sales, corporate advertising, program sales and merchandising. Nagin is projecting the team could clear $2 million in the next few years.
The Brass owners are also petitioning for a lease on a new 18,000-seat, $84 million state-built sports arena adjacent to the New Orleans Super Dome.