Can winning on the court change the Atlanta Dream’s fortunes off the court?
Owner Kathy Betty is about to find out. And she’s not leaving it to chance.
Betty, 54, is starting to reach out to potential investors — one of the key moves she postponed during her whirlwind rookie season that ended just short of a WNBA title. She plans to stay as majority owner, but hopes to tap into several investors willing to help shoulder the financial load, as she attempts to turn red ink into black.
“I have a year of experience and I understand the numbers inside and out,” Betty said when we talked about her plans recently. “I can look eye-to-eye with investors.”
To briefly recap for those who don’t follow women’s basketball — and that’s most of Atlanta — Betty was looking for a new challenge following the death of her husband, former Earthlink CEO Garry Betty. A trained accountant and basketball lover, she bought the Dream a year ago this month, saving it from a move to Tulsa or possible extinction.
When she bought the team it was losing about $3 million — a number that’s been reduced during her first year, although she wouldn’t disclose by how much. To be fair, I’ve covered business for most of my career and have yet to cover a pro women’s team that has made money. The hurdles are enormous. Male team sports dominate the landscape, from January to December.
But Betty, a vivacious, enthusiastic and numbers-crunching owner, had some good fortune this year. In Atlanta, it really can pay if you win. And the Dream won the league’s Eastern Conference before succumbing to the Seattle Storm in the championship series. The three post-season games at Philips Arena drew over 9,000 per game — well above the regular season average of about 6,500. Betty needs about 8,500 to break even.
Her goal is to reduce losses next season and hit a profit in 2012 — a very tall order.
To try to do this she is:
– Attempting to recruit a small group of like-minded investors who believe the team can make a difference in how young girls perceive themselves and their future opportunities.
– Increasing sponsorship revenue. She hopes to turn the five major sponsors for the past season, including Coke and Aaron’s, into 10 next season.
– Using stepped-up marketing efforts to grow ticket revenue, including doubling season-ticket sales to 3,000.
Continuing success on the court can help. “Next year, winning is critical. It allows for a bigger fan base and more time for the brand and tradition to grow,” Betty said.
Unfortunately, she’ll have to do that without drafting Gwinnett’s Maya Moore, the best player in college basketball who will be finishing up at UConn next spring. The Dream’s success on the court means they won’t have the chance to draft Moore, who will go to one of the poorest-performing teams.
When Moore does come to town to play the Dream, Betty predicted a sellout. “We’ll probably tear the curtain down,” she said, referring to the covering over Philips’ upper level, which is not used during Dream games.
That’ll help the bottom line. And if it ever goes from red to black, Betty told me, “You’ll be the first one I call.”
That’s one call I’d love to get.
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