Athletes brewing new spin on future of sports franchise ownership

By E. Spencer Kyte | Posted 2 years ago

You can add part-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers to the growing list of titles affixed to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s resume, as the two-time NBA MVP, 2021 NBA Champion and Finals MVP purchased a stake in his local Major League Baseball franchise on Friday.


This time last year, speculation about Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee was running rampant, as the Bucks had washed out of the NBA Playoffs in the second round and the five-time All-Star and franchise cornerstone was on track to be a free agent at the end of the 2020-2021 season.


Selected 15th overall by the Bucks in the 2013 NBA Draft, the 26-year-old power forward has blossomed into a homegrown superstar, but with the team failing to reach The Finals and plenty of suitors lining up to court Antetokounmpo, many in the basketball media — and plenty in Milwaukee — wondered if the Greek-born standout would depart the small market squad for a bigger city and a chance to team with additional stars in order to improve his chances of winning his first championship.


Those concerns were put to bed at the start of the season, as Antetokounmpo inked a five-year, $228 million supermax extension with Milwaukee in December, securing his future in the city. This summer, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks navigated the injury-ravaged playoffs to beat the Phoenix Suns in 4-2 to win the NBA Championship, the franchise’s first title since 1971.


Now, Antetokounmpo is following the lead of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and fellow superstar Patrick Mahomes by buying into a local sports team. The former NFL and Super Bowl MVP purchased a similar stake in the Kansas City Royals last summer, and then followed by joining the ownership group of Sporting KC, the city’s MLS franchise last month.


Antetokounmpo and Mahomes are part of a growing trend of star players and competitors transitioning into ownership in their post-playing careers, which also includes basketball stars Dwyane Wade (Utah Jazz) and Renee Montgomery (Atlanta Dream), soccer standouts Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, and Julie Foudy (Angel City FC), former New York Yankees teammates Derek Jeter (Miami Marlins) and Alex Rodriguez (Minnesota Timberwolves), and hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, who has owned the Pittsburgh Penguins since 1999.


While it varies across leagues, franchise ownership is an increasingly appealing – and viable -- option to athletes, especially as live sporting events continue to command top dollar in a television and streaming landscape that is both increasingly competitive, but also devoid of appointment viewing options.


Although more and more people are moving away from cable television in favor of streaming platforms, television rights to the various leagues continue to be in-demand properties, resulting in increasingly lucrative deals that are portioned out amongst the different franchises and owners.


Earlier this year, Major League Baseball (MLB), Disney and ESPN agreed on a new seven-year deal worth $550 million annually. In addition, MLB also re-upped with Turner Sports, inking a deal that runs from 2022-28 with an annual value of approximately $535 million, while previously signing a $5.1 billion extension with FOX in 2018 that will also run from 2022-28.


Added up, those three, individual seven-year broadcast rights deals, total $14.3 billion in revenue for MLB.


Along with being a solid business investment that deepens Antetokounmpo’s ties to the Milwaukee area, his addition to the Brewers’ ownership group and the overall increase in women and BIPOC individuals into the ownership tier in professional sports is both tremendous to see and long overdue.


For far too long, the makeup of the owners in most North American sports leagues were far too one-note, consisting nearly exclusively of old, straight, white males, despite the athletes on the individual fields and courts becoming increasingly more diverse with each passing year.


There is an old Chris Rock standup bit breaking down the difference between “being rich” and “being wealthy,” and for the longest time, franchise ownership stood as the perfect representation of the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and iconic standup comedian’s point.


“Shaq is rich,” Rock said in his 2004 special, Never Scared, referring to NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal. “The white man that signs his check is wealthy…. I’m not talking about Oprah; I’m talking about Bill Gates, okay? If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he’d jump out a *$@#ing window.”


O’Neal is part owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and an increasing number of former athletes, many from historically under-represented communities, have made the same transition, using the riches they accumulated in their playing careers to invest in franchises that have a track record of making their owners wealthy.


Tethering this news about Antetokounmpo buying into the Brewers ownership group to a standup comedy bit from more than 15 years ago may seem frivolous to some, but the truth is Rock’s rant about the differences between being rich and being wealthy is the clearest, most straightforward explanation of why this news and the continuing trend of athletes crossing over into ownership is crucial.


“Wealth will set us free,” Rock continues in the nearly two-minute soliloquy. “Wealth is empowering. Wealth can uplift communities from poverty… Wealth is passed down from generation to generation; you can’t get rid of wealth.”


While details of these owner-athlete deals are rarely disclosed, owning a small percentage of these multi-billion-dollar franchises can generate the kind of generational wealth Rock sharply joked about and that truly does have the power to change communities.

Additionally, it’s also a matter of representation.


Seeing more than the same group of men owning baseball, basketball, and football teams shows the majority of the population that are not straight white males the possibility of them one day owning their favor soccer club or hockey team exists, even ever so slightly, and makes chasing that dream feel like a much less futile pursuit.


So not only this another highlight in what has clearly been “The Summer of Giannis,” who is also the subject of a current New York Times bestselling book by Mirin Fader (Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an MBA MVP), but it’s another positive step in the right direction when it comes to bringing increased diversity and equality to the ownership level in professional sports.


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