Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson became part owner of the Washington Mystics yesterday after joining an ownership group that purchased the team from Washington Sports and Entertainment chairman Abe Pollin.
Johnson, a philanthropist and chief executive of Salamander Hospitality LLC, will carry the titles of president, managing partner and governor for Washington's WNBA franchise. Her former husband and business partner, Bob Johnson, is the majority owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
The news conference announcing the sale was attended by Abe and Irene Pollin, NBA Commissioner David Stern, WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender and Ted Leonsis, majority owner and chairman of Lincoln Holdings LLC. According to Stern, the purchase price for a WNBA franchise is $10 million and that is what Lincoln Holdings will pay for the Mystics.
Sources familiar with the workings of Lincoln Holdings, which now has 11 partners, said that Johnson's stake in the partnership is between 6 percent and 7 percent. As a partner in Lincoln Holdings, Johnson will also own a stake in the NHL's Washington Capitals and the NBA's Washington Wizards.
Johnson is believed to be the first black woman to be an owner-partner in three professional sports franchises.
"Abe came to me with the idea of doing it, and my advisers said: 'Why just the Mystics? Why don't you go in as a partner with Lincoln Holdings?' " Johnson said. "So then we broached the idea with Ted Leonsis and he said he liked the idea. I have to say that all the partners in Lincoln Holdings embraced the idea and have been very warm towards me. This helps make the whole Washington sports franchise strong."
Leonsis purchased the Capitals from Pollin in 1999 and Lincoln Holdings currently controls 45 percent of the Wizards and MCI Center, the construction of which Pollin financed. Before yesterday, Lincoln Holdings owned 45 percent of the Mystics.
Lincoln Holdings also holds an option and right of first refusal to purchase the Wizards should Pollin sell the team. However, Pollin said yesterday that he has no intention of selling the Wizards anytime soon.
"No, I plan on sitting in that chair," said Pollin, who has owned the franchise since 1964. "The Wizards have nothing to do with this."
Sheila and Bob Johnson founded BET in 1980 and sold the company to Viacom in 1997 for $3 billion. The Johnsons divorced in 2002 and Sheila Johnson now lives in Middleburg, where she is constructing the Salamander Resort and Spa, which is scheduled to open during the summer of 2007. A Lincoln Holdings partner said Johnson's ties to the area and history of philanthropy were major reasons why the ownership group was eager to add her.
Johnson is president of the Washington International Horse Show and donated $2.5 million to build the Sheila C. Johnson Performing Arts Center at the Hill School in Middleburg.
The WNBA began its ninth season last weekend and will expand to 14 teams next year when Chicago adds a franchise. Stern said he expects the league to continue adding one team per season until the league has 20 teams.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.