Atlanta Dream changes ownership

Ownership of the Atlanta Dream pro basketball franchise has changed hands, the team announced Saturday.

Investors Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler will take over ownership of the WNBA team from managing partner Kathy Betty. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Betty has been the managing partner since adding Brock and Loeffler to the all-female ownership in January. Brock and Loeffler must be approved by the league as majority owners.

The Dream, in its fourth season this summer at Philips Arena, can clinch an Eastern Conference playoff spot with a win over Tulsa on Sunday.

"The Dream will always be very special to me," Betty said in a release on the ownership transition. "We accomplished a lot in the last two seasons -- including winning the Eastern Conference Championship and increasing ticket sales and sponsorships. Mary and Kelly's connections to the community and passion for the game have, and will continue to be, great assets to the team."

When Betty bought the team in 2009, it was losing about $3 million. But during her first year as owner, aided by a team that made it to the league finals before succumbing, the red ink was reduced. Betty would not say by how much when interviewed earlier this year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Her goal at the time was to reduce the financial loss further in the upcoming season and then turn a profit in 2012. The added investments from Brock and Loeffler are expected to bolster team finances as it attempts to boost its marketing efforts to attract more fans.

The Dream lost to Seattle in the 2010 WNBA finals, but their regular-season average attendance of 6,293 was the third-lowest in the 12-team league and more than an 11 percent dip from 2009.

This year's average of 6,404 again is third-lowest, ahead of only Chicago and Tulsa.

Basketball was not new to Betty when she bought the Dream from Ron Terwilliger in 2009. She has been a major contributor to the basketball teams at Georgia Tech. She also has served on the board of the V Foundation, which former N.C. State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano and ESPN founded to battle cancer.

In an October 2009 interview with the AJC, she said she didn't play basketball for a team when she was growing up in Decatur, Ala., but she still felt a kinship with the game.

In purchasing the Dream, Betty said she wanted to "build a compelling business case to the business leaders of Atlanta on how sponsoring the Atlanta Dream will not only help them give back to the community but will also help women-to-women networking."

As an owner, Betty was among a few but growing number of women owning major sports teams. The first owner of the New York Mets was Joan Payson, and Marge Schott was the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds for a period. Other women who ran teams had a family connection, such as Georgia Frontiere, who inherited the Los Angeles Rams from her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom. Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald's tycoon Ray Kroc, ran the San Diego Padres.

The WNBA has opened doors to more female owners, though. Sheila Johnson, co-founder of the Black Entertainment Television network, became the first woman to own a WNBA franchise in 2005.

Betty told the AJC earlier this year that Brock and Loeffler “are about the mission and the vision of the Atlanta Dream — inspiring young girls to play sports.”

Brock is a philanthropist and wife of Coca-Cola Enterprises chief John Brock, and Loeffler is vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange.

"The Dream has become a valuable asset for the city of Atlanta and we are excited about continuing to build this amazing franchise for the fans and sponsors," Loeffler said in Saturday's release. "We are grateful for the work Kathy did in keeping the team in Atlanta, and look forward to the continued success of this world-class team."

-- Staff writers Kristi E. Swartz and Henry Unger,  and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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