On Aug. 1, a group of investors led by lesbian Chicago Cubs co-owner/Chicago Sky minority owner Laura Ricketts announced that they had officially took ownership of the Chicago Red Stars National Women's Soccer League franchise. The deal was valued at $60 million.
The diverse group includes members such as Center on Halsted interim CEO Editha Paras; IDEO Chief Legal Officer (and Nobody's Darling co-owner) Angela Barnes; and Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), a member of the transgender community.
Before the deal was finalized, Ricketts talked with Windy City Times about the genesis of the deal; what it's like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community; and a unique recurring dream she has.
Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: Congrats on the deal and its impending finalization. Growing up, did you have no choice but to be involved in sports, or were they something you naturally gravitated toward?
Laura Ricketts: It was actually something I naturally gravitated toward. Someone else asked me, "When did you get interested in women's sports?," and I said "When I was about four." I started playing T-ball and I got involved in softball, volleyball, basketball and track.
I really enjoyed participating but there weren't a lot of women's sports to watch when I was young. There were always the Olympics, and certain competitions as well as tennis, but not a lot of professional team sports. I'd like to say I was the best athlete in our family; my brothers may disagree with me but my mom will agree with me. [Smiles]
But everyone played and followed sports. Being from Nebraska, there aren't a lot of professional sports teams. When I was growing up, the Kansas City Royals had a minor-league team thereand then there was Nebraska Cornhusker football. We did follow the Royals, the Cubs, the Denver Broncos and a few other teams in larger cities. But it was [mostly] about Nebraska football.
WCT: Being from Virginia, I followed men's teams but also the Old Dominion University women's basketball teams with coach Marianne Stanley and players like Nancy Liebermanbut, for some reason, I also followed Nebraska football. I think it was because television coverage involved games between Nebraska and Oklahoma.
LR: Oh, yeah. That was a big rivalry when I was growing up.
WCT: And so the tide is slowly changing regarding women's sports.
LR: Slowlybut I do feel there's been an evolution. It's been gaining momentum and I think we're going to see an explosion. Just watching the trajectory of the leagues and the attention they're getting, I feel like we're going to see a big step up in terms of viewership. We're already seeing that with women's soccerincreases in ticket sales, viewership, corporate partnerships. We'll see what happens with the new media-rights agreement with the NWSL [National Women's Soccer League] but my bet is that it'll be of significantly more value than the previous one.
WCT: Tell me how this investment group came together.
LR: Well, it was very important to me that this be a woman-led investment group, and that it be a diverse group as well. I wanted it to reflect players on the field and reflect our diverse culture in the city. I [reached out] to people in my network who I thought would be interested. Then, my wife, Brooke, my brother Tom and I sat down early last January; we looked at the website for the Chicago Network [a group of the city's most influential women leaders] and looked at the members to see who might be interested.
We started to put together an interesting group of women and we asked them to think about their own networks. For example, Angela Barnes was one of the first people I asked. I've known her forever, and I respect her immensely and love her dearly; plus, she's successful, has great experience and has the best interest of the city at heart. And there was [smartly.io Chair/CEO] Laura Desmond, who's also a member of the LGBTQ+ community; she was also one of the first people I reached out to. And the women I reached out to had ideas for other women to [contact]. I've known Jennifer Pritzker for quite a while, and I thought this might be an interesting opportunity for her.
We just had to sit down, brainstorm and gradually put the pieces together. I think this group is pretty remarkable and will bring so much value to this club.
WCT: And how much did the Sally Yates report [a report released in 2022 that detailed systematic abuse in the NWSL] play in you kickstarting this endeavor?
LR: I would say it started with a letter from players. I realized that this team would likely be sold. Given my experience with the ownership and management of the Cubs for the past 13 years, I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to bring my experience and professionalism to this club.
Subsequently, I had a conversation with Jessica Berman, the commissioner of the league, to find out certain things: what she was like, her vision for the league, how the league is run. I was very impressed by her. After that was when the report came out.
WCT: I read a quote in a press release in which you justifiably said that championship culture begins with treating players with respect. It continues, though, with having good players. [Ricketts nods.] How much of a say do you feel the investor group will have regarding the recruitment [and management] of players?
LR: I will tell you what I've learned throughout my career and what my parents said: When you run a business, you hire the best that you can attract. Then you give them the responsibility and make them accountable. So I'm not going to be the director of sporting or the GM; that's not my role. My role is to have the best general manager we can possibly attract; then, it's their role to identify and recruit the best players.
It's important to hold them accountableand that will be true of any executive who comes on at the club level. We will also instill in themalthough, hopefully, we won't need to instill itthe understanding that there's always respect for the players and the other associates who work for the club.
WCT: I'm curious: Have you seen the Angel City documentary [that looks at the Los Angeles-based professional women's soccer team]? If so, what did you think of it?
LR: I have, yeah. I love how it painted this story of the inspiration of the team and how it came together. And I like the energy of it. I really am looking forward to working with the people from Angel City, but I also think the way they put this dynamic, large investment group together is really refreshing. I think the folks they brought on [such as Natalie Portman and Jessica Chastain] are obviously very Hollywood and celeb-heavy, and that works really well in L.A.; it's not something that works so well in Chicago. But I'd like to think that the investment group we've put together is our own version of Chicago celebritiessmart, experienced, creative, hard-working, diverse women who are wonderful and personable and who will bring value to this club.
WCT: I also want to ask you something I've asked various people this year: For you, what is it like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in today's America?
LR: That's a hugeand really goodquestion.
For me, the LGBTQ+ community is familyand I mean everybody. I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be a member of it, and we have our challenges, certainly. (By that, I mean challenges with politics.) It's been so valuable for me.
My parents started their own business and worked really hard. That turned out to be a blessing because it gave me this work ethic and taught me about accountability. It also taught me to dream and to follow your dreams. It also taught me about honesty, respect and putting the best product out there. My family was blessed in a lot of ways, including having a good education.
But of course I'm a woman, and I've felt many inequities of society. I came out latenot until my early 30sbut I was pretty blessed. I had a very privileged upbringing even though we didn't have a lot of money.
When I came out, it was like I was suddenly "the other." Even though I felt certain [biases] and challenges because I'm a woman, it was completely different being a queer woman. And becoming more active and building relationships in this community really opened my eyes. It's not about being treated equally, as a woman, and it's not about being treated equally, as a queer woman; it's about equality across the board. There's no such thing as someone being treated more equitably; that doesn't make sense.
There is so much diversity in our community, but we have shared experiences. That's one of the biggest blessings. The other is having this perspective that I didn't have before. I wasn't blind to the discrimination and lack of opportunities that people face, being part of the community brought it home in a whole new way.
And you didn't ask me this, but I'll tell you. When I was a young adult, I had this recurring dream. I always woke up in a dark room and there was something in the darkness that I was deathly afraid of. I would try to screambut I had no voice; I tried to turn on the light but the light wouldn't work. I would have this dream a few times a year.
When I started coming out, I had that same dreambut it ended differently. This "thing" that I was so afraid of and that I couldn't name was actually a friend. I share this because even though it was so hard to acknowledge and to come out, honestly, it's the biggest blessing of your life.
For more information on Ricketts' Chicago Red Stars deal, see tinyurl.com/23282v9h.