- The Seattle Storm is the highest-valued team in the WNBA at $151 million.
- The team raised $21 million from 12 investor groups, which it will use to build a new headquarters.
- Read the exact slides the owners used to pitch investors.
The Seattle Storm of the WNBA have been owned by three local businesswomen since 2008: Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder, and Dawn Trudeau.
When the franchise considered following their NBA counterparts, the SuperSonics, to Oklahoma City, the trio of season-ticket holders and one other since-departed owner banded together to keep the basketball team in Seattle.
Brummel told Insider that their first decade as Storm owners was spent learning how to run a business. However, after overcoming the difficulties of winning the championship in the WNBA’s 2020 pandemic bubble — dubbed the “wubble” by fans — the three decided it was time to make a significant investment in their players.
They chose a dedicated practice facility rather than a temporary fix or a college gym, which no WNBA team had at the time.
What is the issue?
“We did a quick back of the napkin calculation, and it’s like, ‘Well, we’re not going to be able to pay for this,'” Brummel told me.
What is the solution?
The trio hand-picked 12 investor groups, mostly comprised of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people, who had previously expressed interest, and pitched them on purchasing small pieces of the team. According to Brummel, the ownership group closed a $21 million raise in February 2023, which will go toward the new $64 million facility and working capital.
The team was valued at $151 million in the sale, the highest in the league. The Chicago Sky, the next most valuable team, is worth $85 million.
“It’s not your average sports story,” Brummel explained. “It isn’t, ‘The billionaire throws a bunch of money at it and buys it for $6 billion, then spends a hundred million on this, that, and the other.’ This is equivalent to saying, ‘You buy it, you build it, you build it again, and you keep building it.’ That’s exactly what we do.”
A significant step forward for ‘The W’
The Storm’s new facility is typical of major men’s professional sports leagues, but it is still novel for the WNBA.
Although the Las Vegas Aces opened a dedicated practice facility earlier this year, several teams continue to practice on college campuses or in other shared facilities.
The Seattle Storm currently practice in the basement gym of Seattle Pacific University, where they have four hours of access per day, according to Brummel. When the players leave for the day, they clean out their lockers. The team’s championship trophies are kept in a storage room rather than a display case.
The Storm’s new stadium, which is set to open in March 2024, will house all of the team’s players, marketers, ownership, caterers, championship trophies, and art installations representing the team’s legacy — primarily created by Black artists — under one roof.
Brummel stated that the players have a say in the furniture and technology that will be installed in the building. The center will be in downtown Seattle, near the Storm’s arena and the players’ apartments.
“You own it, 24/7, it’s yours and yours alone,” Brummel said about the players. “It’s built for you.”
Over breakfast, securing a key investor
Brummel, Gilder, and Trudeau weren’t looking for traditional sports investors to fund their new venture; only a couple of their investors have stakes in other professional teams, according to Brummel.
Investing in the WNBA was not Michelle Cardinal’s first choice.
“I don’t know anything about basketball,” Cardinal admitted to Insider. “Full disclosure.”
However, the media executive observed the rapid growth of women’s sports as a key business area, driven by rising viewership and attendance, and decided to jump on board.
“This thing is just going to take off and I want to be a part of it,” Cardinal Francis said. “I don’t have to be an expert in basketball to understand that this is a massive trend happening right before my eyes, and it’s affecting my business.”
Cardinal was introduced to Gilder through a mutual friend for a Zoom call, during which the Storm owner mentioned a potential future investment round that piqued Cardinal’s interest.
During another phone call, Brummel discovered Cardinal lived right around the corner from her daughter. Cardinal invited Brummel over for breakfast and spent hours discussing the raise.
Cardinal decided to participate and became the raise’s lead investor.
“What we’ve actually done is curated a list of people who really care about the team,” said Brummel. “They are concerned about the WNBA’s evolution.” They are interested in women’s sports.”
The Storm’s success on and off the court, the growth of women’s sports, and their goals for the new practice facility were all highlighted in a 28-page pitch deck for investors.