PORTLAND, Ore. – On a balmy early June day in Portland, international pop star Ciara zipped across the city’s skyline in a helicopter with her husband, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
As they flew, the couple scouted potential locations for a Major League Baseball stadium. Wilson and Ciara signed on individually as investors in the Portland Diamond Project, which is trying to bring an MLB team to the Rose City.
If the team materializes, Ciara and Wilson will both become minority owners in the franchise.
Ciara, at 32, has been one of the country’s ubiquitous one-name celebrities for more than a decade. Perhaps best known for her hit singles “Goodies” and “1, 2 step,” which dominated the pop charts in the mid-2000s, the statuesque Austin-born African-American is also a successful actress and model.
Now, she can add investor to that list.
At a press conference following the helicopter tour, Ciara said she hoped more women would follow in her path.
“I have a daughter, you know, and this means a lot because it really is a dream come true to have an opportunity like this,” she said. “I was kind of learning a lot more about female owners and there’s a very small list of ladies. And to know I’m joining that incredible bunch is exciting, but to also know that perhaps this could inspire the next batch of women to kind of have this opportunity and to open the door even more for women that would follow after.”
Investments are par the course for wealthy celebrities – it’s common for an actor or professional athlete to have stakes in restaurant groups, real estate holdings or start-ups. But less common are women and people of color sinking their money into professional sports teams, especially Major League Baseball.
Professional athletes are a diverse bunch. It’s a meritocracy and the best players make it onto the field, with little regard to their race or ethnicity.
But leadership is still a white man’s game.
Last year, the University of Central Florida gave MLB a C-plus in its Racial and Gender Report Card. The league received a B for racial hiring practices, but a C-minus for gender hiring.
“The lack of racial diversity is alarmingly among MLB managers and general managers,” an ESPN article about the report noted. “There are no people of color or women who are team presidents.”
Ownership is also overwhelmingly white and male among major league sports – in 2011, there was just one black majority owner in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, according to the Philadelphia Tribune.
Magic Johnson is often listed as the first MLB franchise owner – his investment group bought the Dodgers in 2012. Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan have since purchased minority stakes in baseball teams.
So Russell Wilson, as an African-American man, will join a thin list of people of color if his minority ownership in Portland’s MLB team materializes.
Ciara’s ownership stake would put her on an even smaller list of female MLB owners.
Across major sports leagues, women in ownership positions are hard to find. The NFL has a few. The NBA has at least one. But overall, it's mostly male. Women are better represented in professional women’s sports, including the WNBA and the National Women’s Soccer League, and historically in the Negro Leagues baseball teams. Men’s sports, however, still dominate in TV viewership, ticket sales, sponsorships, and cash.
It’s difficult to say how small that list it is, since there has been such little reporting on the topic.
A rundown compiled by Baseball-reference.com lists 11 female MLB owners, dating back more than 100 years. Out of those names, seven of the women inherited ownership stakes from their deceased husbands.
There is at least one African-American woman who is currently an owner of an MLB team: Businesswoman Faye Ford-Fields is part-owner of the Washington Nationals.
If Portland gets an MLB team, Ciara could become the second African-American woman to join the MLB ownership ranks.
What’s certain is that Wilson and Ciara’s leadership will put Portland – the country’s whitest big city – in the position of having one of the most diverse MLB owner’s boxes in the league.
Ciara realizes the historic nature of her investment, according to Mike Barrett, former Trail Blazers announcer and managing partner of the Portland Diamond Project.
“She came in by herself, they didn’t come in as a couple,” Barrett said. “She’s talked about being a female minority owner of a team, which there aren’t many of.”
For Ciara, this is just one more way she can prove to women, including her daughter Sienna, that they can do anything they want to.
"This is something that I am doing as an investor, business partner, and entrepreneur. I am thrilled at the opportunity to be one of only a few African American women to have ownership in a MLB franchise," she wrote on her online blog. "My dream is to empower more females in ownership of major sports franchises and open more doors for Sienna and all girls everywhere."