Want To Close The Black Ownership Gap In Sports?

The business of sports reaches across several verticals to impact our lives every day. Whether it’s the retail business or the billion-dollar media deals determining new and exciting ways that we can consume our favorite leagues, one thing for sure is that we’re in a sports boom. In 2023, the global sports economy is expected to reach a valuation of $512.1 billion. By 2027, this number will eclipse $627 billion. With this immense opportunity upon us, we must look at creative, innovative, and comprehensive solutions to utilize the business of sports to strategically combat economic inequities.

As the 2023 NFL season kicked off this week, over 900 Black players took the field, eight Black general managers in the front office, and four Black head coaches on the sideline. Unfortunately, the owner’s suite still has zero Black majority owners. While it’s been encouraging to see an increase in Black NFL minority owners with Magic Johnson joining the fold alongside other Black NFL minority owners, Warrick Dunn, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton, Mellody Hobson, and Condoleezza Rice, it’s clear that we have lots of work to do if we want to have a fair share of the pie.

And to be clear, this is not an issue that only plagues the NFL but all major sports leagues in the US. After Michael Jordan’s sale of the Charlotte Hornets earlier this summer, there are 0 Black majority owners across the major sports leagues in the US.

Black sports ownership
LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 7: J. Cole attends the 2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League between the Charlotte Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs on July 7, 2023 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Some may say the financing rules or the technicalities of the process have led to this gap, but at the most basic level, the racial wealth gap is holding back more Black majority owners in sports. Research shows that white households hold 84% of the total wealth in the US compared to Black families, having 4% of total household wealth despite being 13% of the country’s population. At least $10 trillion in wealth is missing from Black communities due to the historic impact of racism and systematic discrimination.

While the NFL has taken encouraging steps to address racial inequalities inside and outside of the league through a variety of campaigns, initiatives, and collaborations, there is a unique opportunity for the league to lead and model how sports leagues can take the initiative to level the playing field for more Black majority owners.

First, the NFL should commit to holding yearly seminars and symposiums in conjunction with Black leaders across business and finance as an opportunity to build relationships and share tools and tips that will help inform what’s needed to purchase a team. The NFL created a Coaching and Front Office Accelerator that’s yielded meaningful results. My organization, Diverse Representation, is filling the gap around ownership by hosting the first-ever Black Ownership in Sports Symposium in Atlanta to educate Black students and professionals about the inner workings of purchasing and owning professional sports teams. Each major league in North America should systematically work to develop similar programs that intentionally pursue Black leaders who could be prospective owners as teams go up for sale or as leagues expand.

Second, the NFL should charge each franchise in the league to create an employee ownership option for players to gain an ownership stake in the team after retiring. Nearly 60% of NFL players are Black and put their bodies on the line for the sport we know and love. The valuation of NFL teams ranges from $4 billion to $9.2 billion. If each franchise would commit to at least a 1% team investment into an employee-owned trust, it could provide an unprecedented opportunity for players once they retire. This comprehensive model for wealth-building gives players a chance to learn the inner workings of a team and could spread the wealth of knowledge and resources on an entirely new level. Employee ownership models are increasingly growing in support and visibility. The first major league to unlock the potential of this model in sports has an opportunity to yield transformative results.

With this state of play, we’re at a historic pivot point where sports could close opportunity and achievement gaps. As sports ownership becomes increasingly inaccessible due to economic inequality, we risk missing a moment where we can genuinely reset the realm of possibilities for Black athletes and professionals alike. Now is the time to act; otherwise, we risk entering this economic sports boom unprepared, recreating systems and institutions that inevitably leave Black communities behind. We can’t and won’t let that happen.

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Jaia Thomas, Esq. is a Sports and Entertainment attorney and the Founder of Diverse Representation, an organization created to increase the hiring and visibility of Black agents, attorneys, managers, publicists, and executives in the sports and entertainment industries.