Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson, co-owners of the WNBA team Los Angeles Sparks, are pioneers in the sports world. They are the first women to buy a team without the financial support of a husband or father. Goodman, 45, who grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., had practiced finance law and then launched a film production company, Intermedia Films, which went public on the German stock exchange after five years. She now teaches high school English and social studies at a charter school in Lake Balboa. Christofferson, 41, grew up on a sheep farm in Tolna, N.D., and is a former Miss North Dakota. She has been with the Los Angeles-based law firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP for 15 years. She serves as head of its downtown L.A. office and maintains a big-ticket litigation practice with clients including ExxonMobil and Trader Joe's. The pair bought the Sparks in 2006 from Lakers owner Jerry Buss. They supervise a staff of about 15 during the off-season and 50 when the Sparks play, and their goal is now to get to the championships and make the team profitable. Goodman and Christofferson met with the Business Journal at Christofferson's office at O'Melveny to discuss owning a sports franchise.


Question: How did you meet?

Goodman: We met in 2000 when Carla represented Intermedia Films in an intellectual property lawsuit. We knew right away that we had the same work ethic because I would be at Intermedia, and my phone would ring at 8:30 p.m., I would answer it and Carla would say, "Why are you at the office?" And I would say, "What are you doing calling me?" I asked her if she wanted to go to a Sparks game, and she said she had her own tickets.

Christofferson: But Kathy's tickets were better than mine. So we put our seats together so at least we wouldn't have to watch the games by ourselves.

Q: Why did you want to buy the team?

Christofferson: We had been longtime fans. In addition to our passion for the sport, we also believed it was really amazing seeing these women perform at the highest level in a male-dominated field. And we were surprised that more people in Los Angeles weren't at the games and didn't seem to know about them. We just viewed it as a classic undervalued asset.

Q: Did you always want to own a sports team?

Goodman: I'm not sure we even thought we were going to buy this sports team until we actually closed the deal. We weren't looking to go into business together we were friends. And we both had other jobs, so it wasn't like we were looking for something to do in our spare time. We just decided to see if we could do it.

Q: Would you sit there and say, "If we owned the team, we would do this, or we would do that?"

Goodman: Every fan knows how they would run their team. But we looked at what the real business opportunity was, what it would take to get it to profitability, and whether we were getting into something that was part of a larger trend that was moving in a direction that would favor us. All of those signs pointed to yes.

Q: What was the thing that pushed you over the edge?

Goodman: It might have been the Lakers agreeing to sell it to us.

Christofferson: I remember when Kathy called me the morning when the Lakers accepted the deal. Then it became quite real. I rolled down my car window and just started screaming.

Goodman: We worked really hard in forming the offer. We didn't know if it would work. It's not like there are all these WNBA teams that buy and sell all the time. We had arranged financing and put together an investor group, so all that time was not lost when they accepted the offer. The team was not for sale, and we couldn't start raising money until we had a deal. We then had about four months of fundraising. Sitting through meetings, pitching your vision, how it's a great thing.

Christofferson: And having a lot of people say no.

Goodman: In often less than complimentary ways: Oh that's cute, that little basketball team, you should do that. That'll be fun for you girls.

Q: So who ended up being investors?

Christofferson: Mostly friends and family, and then one large family group that came in as a very large investor. And we put in our own money.

Q: How long did it take to come up with the whole plan?

Christofferson: From the time of our first meeting to when the deal closed was, symbolically, nine months.

Q: You bought the team for $10 million. Have you broken even, or are you profitable yet?

Goodman: We're not. We're following our business plan, and we knew it would take us a bit of time to hit break-even. But all of our financial indicators are up. Attendance is up, sponsorship is up, average ticket price is up, revenue from merchandising and concessions is up. So we're definitely heading in the right direction.

Q: What are your roles?

Goodman: We manage the team, and we're co-owners. My strength is more on the financial side, and Carla's is more on the marketing and sponsorship side.

Christofferson: We have a professional staff who run the day-to-day operations. But because it's really our passion, we have been very actively involved. We both have other full-time jobs, but this is basically what we do with every single minute of our spare time.

Q: Didn't you introduce a mascot?

Christofferson: I told Kathy I wouldn't buy the team unless I could have a mascot. I'm a little obsessed with it. It's Sparky the Dog. And surprisingly, even to me, the response that we've gotten from fans for Sparky has been amazing. He brings so much of the fun that we thought was so important to the game.

Goodman: People may come to the games more for Sparky than for the players.

Christofferson: We've gotten a lot of requests for Sparky jerseys, and fans bring Sparky presents at the end of the season, sometimes bones. And I'm like, OK, it's not an actual dog.



Q: What would you consider your career turning point?

Goodman: I'm always looking for the next thing. Learning how to do something is interesting to me, but the doing of it becomes less interesting as time goes on. The film business was great and I loved being a lawyer, but once you've financed your hundredth film, do you really want to go to 101?

Christofferson: I didn't find owning a basketball team that odd of an idea because it was no different or stranger for me to do than anything I've done in my life. I had never conceptualized going to law school, and I just borrowed my mom's pickup and drove there. And it certainly didn't seem as hard as coming to O'Melveny and making partner. That seemed a lot more daunting than going into the sports field.


Q: What's a typical day like?

Christofferson: Let's do Wednesday. I had client calls all morning. I went to lunch with a group of associates. Then I came back and made sure to send jerseys out to people who needed them, and followed up with e-mails about speaking at a California entrepreneurial women's event. Then I went home for dinner, and got on a red eye to New York with Kathy to do the final fitting for my wedding dress. And then flew back.

Goodman: I have a more rigid schedule because I can't work from home. I'm usually at school by 8 a.m. During lunch, I'll take care of Sparks business. I handle payroll issues, and I do our employment contracts because I used to do contracts for a living, so that's easy and fast.

Q: How do you juggle your Sparks work with your jobs?

Christofferson: I tend to be busier during the off-season, speaking for groups and meeting with sponsors. When we were in the dress shop, we had a computer set up, and we both had our BlackBerrys. I had a conference call regarding a law firm practice group, another regarding a client matter and then various Sparks-related stuff.

Goodman: I can't do Sparks stuff during the day when school is in session. I've made a really concerted effort to never miss school unless I absolutely have to. So when you're in the playoffs, you have to miss school. But I don't get a substitute because we have a meeting. I schedule Sparks business around my school schedule. But during the summer, I have all my days free to do Sparks stuff.

Christofferson: It's actually great and shows the value of having two people. Like this spring, I had a trial in Alaska, and I was basically gone from January to March. So a lot more of the ball fell on Kathy. We probably didn't see each other for three months.

Q: Kathy, how did you get into teaching?

Goodman: I was upset about the public school system because it was so terrible. I knew I wasn't suddenly going to become the secretary of education, but I thought I should at least do something. But the idea of what it was like to teach at a public school was intriguing to me. It also seemed really scary and hard. It turned out to be not so scary and kind of hard.

Q: What was your first job?

Goodman: Baby-sitting that must have been the first thing I got paid for.

Christofferson: I had two jobs at the same time during the same summer. I got paid about five cents to coach softball to younger kids, and I hoed evergreen trees. I must have been 14 or 15 because I had a car to get there. You get your license at 14 in North Dakota.

Q: Did you ever think you would be doing this at this point in your lives?

Goodman: No, not even remotely. When I was getting ready to apply for college, sports was one big gaping whole in my resume. So this group of seniors and juniors in my high school convinced one of the teachers that he should be the archery coach. So I was on the varsity archery team. We actually had a pretty successful team, but it wasn't really sports. So the idea that 30 years later I would own a basketball team no.

Christofferson: I played basketball, but where I grew up there was no professional league. I did grow up thinking I would be a future coach. But being a lawyer and owning a basketball team certainly didn't enter my thought process.

Q: What would you be doing if you didn't own the Sparks?

Goodman: The other morning, I woke up early at 5:30. I thought, this is great, I'll stay in bed for a little while longer and get to school early before the faculty meeting even starts. And then I got an e-mail that at the time felt like a disaster. One of our players was double-booked for two league events. So I'm on the phone with people, I'm e-mailing people. And I was thinking, What would I do with all these hours I'm filling with Sparks stuff? And I don't know.

Christofferson: I actually still remember before we got the team. We went to a lot more dinners, we hung out with friends, played a lot more Trivial Pursuit, read the entire Sunday paper. I was in my dating phase, so there was the recap, which took as long as many of the dates.

Goodman: Often longer.

Q: Do you miss having that free time, or do you enjoy being busy?

Christofferson: I wouldn't trade having the team for anything.

Goodman: It wasn't like those were empty hours and we found something to fill them. I like doing it.

Q: Who influenced you the most?

Goodman: I admire people who have the drive to push themselves beyond what they're supposed to do. That's one of the reasons why I like the basketball team: Here are these women, none of whom are supposed to be doing this. They're athletes that's wrong. They're playing a team sport that's really bad, women are not supposed to be working together, they're supposed to be stabbing each other in the back. That was one of the reasons that drew me to buy the team. Women like us weren't supposed to own sports teams.

Christofferson: My high school basketball coach coached the boys and the girls exactly the same. So I didn't get that boys and girls should behave differently. My mother was a fighter, and that's where I get it from. When my father left, there she was, 42 years old having never worked outside the house, and she just had to make it happen because she had five mouths to feed. First she became an oil prospector and now is a crop insurance adjuster. She's 72 and still working. People think everyone plateaus at a certain age, but I've had people in my life who accomplish things at a much older age. So I think, Great! What am I going to do next?

Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson

Titles: Co-owners

Organization: WNBA team Los Angeles Sparks

Born: 1963, Los Angeles (Goodman); 1967, Devils Lake, N.D. (Christofferson)

Education: A.B., government, Harvard University, and J.D., University of Chicago Law School (Goodman); B.A., public relations, University of North Dakota, and J.D., Yale Law School (Christofferson)

Career Turning Point: Selling her film company at 38 (Goodman); Joining
O'Melveny & Myers (Christofferson)

Most Influential People: Warren Christopher, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., mother (Goodman); Warren Christopher, high school basketball coach, mother (Christofferson)

Personal: Lives on Westside (Goodman); Lives in Hollywood with new husband, three dogs and one cat (Christofferson)

Hobbies: Watching movies and football, cooking (Goodman); playing basketball, bow hunting, skiing (Christofferson)

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