An investor group led by Laura Ricketts, co-owner of MLB baseball team Chicago Cubs and WNBA basketball side Chicago Sky, has reached an in-principle agreement to buy National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club Chicago Red Stars from long-time owner Arnim Whisler.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but the Stars are believed to be worth up to $35.5 million. The Washington Spirit NWSL franchise sold for $35 million in early 2022.
The prospective Red Stars ownership group features more than 12 investors including Ventas chief executive Debra Cafro, Tawani Enterprises chief executive Jennifer Pritzker, and Smartly.io chief executive Laura Desmond.
Ricketts and Desmond are currently co-owners of women’s basketball franchise Chicago Sky. The pair were among a group of investors who bought a 10% stake in the WNBA team in June.
The Rickets family, meanwhile, bought the Chicago Cubs baseball team in 2009 for $854 million, with the franchise now worth $4.7 billion.
In a statement, Ricketts said: “I am honored to lead this group of Chicago business and civic leaders in our effort to purchase the Chicago Red Stars.
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“Our respective backgrounds in professional sports, financial, turnaround management, commercial real estate, marketing, and advertising, paired with our deep community ties, make for a powerful combination that will serve us well in our ultimate goal: building a championship organization on and off the pitch.”
Whisler was a founding owner of the Red Stars in 2007, which went on to become an NWSL franchise upon the league’s launch in 2013.
He put the club up for sale in the wake of a report released last October by former US deputy attorney general Sally Yates, which detailed abuses and misconduct in the NWSL “spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims.”
Specific revelations were made regarding misconduct against Whisler, including dismissing multiple concerns brought to his attention by players about the abusive behavior of coach Rory Dames dating back to 2014 amid accusations of verbal and emotional abuse by several players.
The Red Stars were also one of three NWSL teams called out in the report for failing to cooperate with the investigations.
In response, the players of the club demanded Whisler sell up. He then formally engaged the investment bank Inner Circle Sports to facilitate the sale.
A NWSL spokesperson said: “Laura Ricketts and the proposed new ownership group are exceptional leaders and we’re pleased with the progress that has been made.
“A final sale will require the approval of the NWSL board of governors, and we’ll have more to say if and when that occurs.”
Chicago currently sit 11th in the NWSL standings, having finished sixth last season. The team features several US women's national team stars, including goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and forward Mallory Swanson.
Image: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images