Kathy Betty, widow of former EarthLink CEO Garry Betty and a major contributor to Georgia Tech's basketball teams, has emerged as the top prospect to buy all or part of the Atlanta Dream, Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson said.
"Talks have involved her taking that role or taking a bigger role in the team," Robinson said late Friday morning.
Current Dream owner Ron Terwilliger told the WNBA in August that he wanted to relinquish his position of primary owner of the two-year old professional women's basketball team. Terwilliger, chairman and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Trammell Crow Residential, said he intended to remain an investor in the team.
Trammell Crow is one of the nation's largest developers of apartments and condominiums. As with the rest of the real estate industry, his business has suffered because of the recession.
On top of that, Terwilliger has moved to New York and has had unspecified changes that prevent him from being actively involved with the team and in the Atlanta community, said Bob Hope, president of the Hope-Beckham public relations firm.
Hope, a longtime public relations executive who at one time worked for the Hawks and the Braves, has been part of an informal group charged with finding a new lead owner for the Dream. Robinson at Central Atlanta Progress has been assisting as well.
"It's an investment opportunity, and [Betty] is vetting that and talking to the league and talking to those of us who were involved in bringing the team here," Robinson said. "It's all about sponsorships and ticket sales, and she's doing her due diligence around those two subjects."
For Atlanta, keeping a team here is also about business and opportunity, mayoral candidate and City Council President Lisa Borders said.
"A sports franchise is not only good business, but it is good entertainment," said Borders, who, along with a group dubbed the "Circle of Friends" helped bring the Dream to Atlanta. "We want to make sure this team is sustainable ... it enhances the economy, it's a great entertainment outlet for the family and it is an extraordinary outlet for women (basketball players) as they move from the college ranks to the professional ranks."
Neither Betty nor Dream President Bill Bolen could be reached for comment.
When he bought the franchise, Terwilliger agreed to pay the WNBA $10 million. He paid $1 million upfront, and then agreed to pay at least another $1 million during the next four years and the remaining $8 million in annual installments beginning in 2010. The amount of each payment is tied to the team's financial performance.
Any unpaid balance, plus interest, will be due in 2017.
It is unclear how a change in ownership will impact what, if anything, Terwilliger owes. It's also unclear how much money Betty must contribute to be a majority owner.
To complete a change in ownership, the potential buyer must file an application with the league, which will then do a complete financial background check. The WNBA Board of Governors -- which consists of each of the franchise owners -- then meets for a final vote.
The Dream's 2008 home opener against the Detroit Shock was the start of a dismal 4-30 inaugural season. This year, however, the team went 18-16, earning a playoff berth. Though the team was swept in the first round -- by the Detroit Shock -- the wins made for the second biggest one-year turnaround in WNBA history.
The league named Forward Angel McCoughtry the Rookie of the Year and Marynell Meadors the Coach of the Year in WNBA awards on Thursday.
Kathy Betty was the wife of Garry Betty, known for taking dial-up Internet company EarthLink public in 1997, a year after he joined the company. He died of cancer in 2007 at age 49.
Betty is a major contributor to the men's and women's basketball programs at Georgia Tech and is on the board of the Jimmy V Foundation.
Atlanta is home to four professional men's teams and is a haven for college sports. Women's sports, however, have had particular trouble surviving. The Atlanta Beat, a pro-soccer team, and the Atlanta Glory, a pro-basketball team, both failed, as did the sports leagues to which they belonged.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.