Ever since her young daughter asked, “Are girls allowed to play baseball?” Linda Henry has been searching for ways to answer in the affirmative about not just baseball but all sports.
On Thursday, Henry joined a group that made the largest-ever investment in a women’s sports league, a $75 million capital raise for the WNBA.
“Supporting professional women’s sports is a way of celebrating strength and hard work, showing girls around the world what they are capable of,” said Henry, who is the CEO of the Globe, in an e-mail. “My daughter, Sienna, grew up going to a lot of sporting events, and was around 6 years old when she asked me, ‘Are girls allowed to play baseball?’
“I was confused — of course they are — but then I realized that she hadn’t seen women play professional sports. She didn’t know if it was possible for her, because she had only seen men do it. I sought out ways to show my daughter women’s sports, got some books on star female athletes, and I worked with the Red Sox to launch a sporty female mascot, Tessie.”
Henry said she had earlier explored buying an unrelated women’s sports team in Boston, working with the same investment bank, Allen & Company, that served as financial adviser to the capital raise announced Thursday.
When the WNBA began its campaign to seek new equity partners, Henry was on the call list.
“I am bullish on sports in general, and excited about how women’s sport leagues have been growing in the US,” said Henry, who said her investment is private, and not part of Fenway Sports Group, in which she is a partner.
Henry’s husband, John Henry, is principal owner of FSG, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. John Henry also owns the Globe.
Women’s sports still constitute a sliver of the global sports industry, less than $1 billion in an industry that has swelled to more than an estimated $500 billion. According to a 2020 Deloitte study, women’s sports are “ripe for greater monetization,” but first the entire sports industry “needs to invest on a sustained basis in creating more opportunities for women’s sports to prove its commercial worth.”
Last month, the Premier Hockey Federation announced that its owners had raised $25 million for the professional women’s league.
The National Women’s Soccer League is in expansion mode, and on Thursday the WNBA got its boost.
“There is a growing interest in women’s sports,” said Linda Henry. “The WNBA just completed its 25th season with growing TV audiences and a really competitive league. This investment will help expand the brand and the reach of the league itself, make it easier for audiences to engage with them, and grow the sport.”
Joining Linda Henry on the new investor list are Angela Ruggiero, former Harvard and US Olympic hockey player and CEO of the Boston-based Sports Innovation Lab; Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and president, Emerson Collective; James and Heather Murren, former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International; Nike, Inc; and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Other investors include current NBA and WNBA owners such as Joe and Clara Tsai, New York Liberty and Brooklyn Nets; Ted Leonsis, Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards; and Micky and Nick Arison, Miami Heat.
In a conference call on Thursday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert elaborated on how the league can use the new capital to reshape its business, sponsorship, and marketing model and generate new revenue that will allow it to expand its own size as well as its slice of the global sports industry.
“We constantly read about women businesses struggling and having barriers to accessing capital,” said Engelbert. “Thanks to this access to capital, we can definitely take a huge step forward.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.