In mid-October, the Philadelphia 76ers became just the latest NBA team to introduce a celebrity among its group of investors.
Actors Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith, now minority owners of Smith’s hometown team, join Jay-Z (part-owner of the New Jersey Nets) and basketball superstar Michael Jordan (majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats) among a growing list of celebrities with ownership stakes in professional sports.
As the NBA’s lockout continues, these famous owners — and their potential influence on fan interest and ticketing trends — remains to be seen. But in the professional sports world as a whole, where celebrity ownership is increasingly commonplace, results of celebrity involvement have been mixed.
While some celebrity owners merely exist as financial backers and publicity drivers for their teams, others have been instrumental in the organization’s success.
Baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan is part-owner of the Texas Rangers and currently serves as the MLB team’s president and CEO. Under his ownership, the Rangers have appeared in the last two World Series, despite losses in both.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Rangers set a record this year drawing more than 2.9 million fans to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It signaled the largest rise in attendance for the team since 1989, the season that Ryan began pitching for the Rangers.
Amy Carpenter, vice president of marketing for Texas-based TicketCity, told TicketNews that Ryan appears to be one celebrity who has made an impact at the gate.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard recently say they want to be there to see Nolan Ryan get a World Series win. Not just the Rangers, but Nolan. I think that pretty much sums up the impact a respected sports figure can have on the fans, as well as the team,” she said.
On the opposite end, some celebrity owners have not had much of an impact on the marketability of a team and its ticket sales, as has been the case with Jordan and the Bobcats. According to ESPN.com, the Bobcats’ game viewership is the lowest of any team in the NBA, and attendance has not risen significantly since Jordan bought the team in 2010.
“From our perspective, sports fans don’t seem swayed much by celebrity involvement or ownership,” Carpenter said. “If they were, I think you’d see a lot more teams seeking celebrity owners. But if that celebrity is a well-respected, admired sports figure that is what can have a significant impact.”