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LOS ANGELES SPARKS

Sparks' continued financial losses prompted owner to withdraw

Williams Group Holdings had lost nearly $12 million on the team and expected to lose more than $1 million in 2014, Paula Williams Madison says.

January 03, 2014|By Melissa Rohlin
  • Sparks star Candace Parker leaves the court after an 80-79 loss to the Minnesota Lynx in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on October 7, 2012. The Sparks have not won a WNBA title since 2002.
Sparks star Candace Parker leaves the court after an 80-79 loss to the Minnesota… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

Sparks Chairwoman Paula Williams Madison said Friday that her family-owned company realized in December that it could no longer afford to be the primary investor in the WNBA team because of continuing losses.

Madison told The Times that since their family firm, Williams Group Holdings, began investing in the Sparks in 2007, the firm had lost nearly $12 million on the team and was projected to lose more than $1 million in the 2014 season.

"You kind of get to a point where you say how much more can I afford to invest," Madison said.

Madison said she asked the league if it could help provide financial assistance for the Sparks, but was told the WNBA was not in a position do so. "They didn't really have any money to help us with," she said.

Before the holidays, Madison told the WNBA that Williams Group Holdings, the Sparks' majority owner, would no longer be involved with the team.

The Sparks' front-office and coaching staffs have been laid off.

The WNBA is searching for a new owner for the Sparks, who won championships in 2001 and 2002.

Madison said that her company missed the Dec. 31 payroll for the Sparks' staff. She added that she and her family never took a salary from the team, and never anticipated that the franchise would be a money-making investment.

"What my family had agreed to was we would give the team a certain number of years to at least break even," Madison said. "We wanted to support professional women's basketball, but, what did happen, unfortunately, was that we were unable to generate the kind of sponsorship that would have allowed that."

The WNBA has been plagued by financial concerns. The league started out with eight teams in 1997 and grew to 16 before several franchises folded. It now fields 12 teams, including the Sparks.

The Sparks are one of six privately owned teams in the WNBA; the others are owned by the NBA.

Madison said she hopes that the Sparks will be able to remain in Los Angeles.

"I pray there is a group or a buyer or an investor here in Los Angeles that will step up and that will keep the team here," she said. "I think this team is a perfect match for this city. This team has among the highest attendance levels in the league. But still, the cost of operating this team in Los Angeles ... is very expensive."

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

Twitter: @melissarohlin

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