Amid mounting uncertainty from the WNBA free agency, Chicago Sky made a big addition this week — to their front office, not to their roster.
The Sky has hired Nadia Rawlinson for a newly created role as Chief Operating Officer. Rawlinson aimed to create a stronger base for the business aspects of the team as the WNBA continued to grow both on and off the field.
“For a long time, many WNBA teams have been trying to survive,” Rawlinson said. “Especially from an operational standpoint, they were just trying to get there and do it. And now it’s time to boom.”
Prior to Rawlinson’s appointment, Sky’s executive branch consisted of three people: Chief Executive Officer and President Adam Fox, Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Hedrick, and Chief Strategy Officer Watchen Nyanue.
Principal owner Michael Alter and Fox began discussing the concept of creating a Chief Operating Officer role in 2021. This was not a concrete position, and the franchise did not go through an interview process. But last year when Alter met Rawlinson – who was initially simply interested in investing in the team – he quickly began to feel Sky had found a new chief operating officer.
Rawlinson has a deep background in human resources, strategy, and business development – as a former Chief of Personnel at Slack Technologies; As the former Chief Human Resources Officer for Live Nation Entertainment; and as a current advisor to venture capital firm Google Ventures. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for J. Crew, Vail Resorts, and Save the Children and is on the Board of Trustees of Stanford University and the Dean’s Board of Advisors at Harvard Business School.
For Alter, the experience paired with a deep love for Chicago, basketball, and the empowerment of women’s sports made Rollinson the right fit.
“We thought, ‘If we find the right person, it would be great to do it,’” Alter said. “We didn’t do any formal research. It was really just an idea that we had. She is definitely the perfect person for the role.”
Rawlinson will oversee the development of Sky’s strategic business initiatives, which include creating and growing corporate partnerships and increasing the organization’s civic engagement throughout society.
Rawlinson and Alter highlighted two areas of immediate growth. The first is sports betting, which has recently become a viable revenue stream due to laws enacted in March. The second is the creation of a media rights deal in 2025, which Alter believes is “undervalued” under the current agreement with the WNBA.
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Alter believes Rawlinson’s experience in the corporate sector will allow Sky to increase revenue to Compete more aggressively in future free agent markets With the provision of benefits such as charter flights, which has become a major topic for players this season.
“The biggest goal we all have is that we need to grow revenue,” Alter said. “That’s how we pay players more money, which they so badly deserve. And that’s how we get the charter flights that they deserve too. So those are all things we want to own. We need to be in a position to do that.
“One of the ways we do that is by bringing in incredibly talented people like Nadia, who could be working, making a lot of money somewhere in the corporate world, but who believe deeply in what we’re trying to build here.”
Alongside her role as chief operating officer, Rawlinson also joined Sky as co-owner, with Alter remaining principal owner. This isn’t her first sports investing venture—during the pandemic, Rawlinson and her husband created a sports fund to invest minority interests in baseball, lacrosse, and hockey teams.
Rawlinson said she has gained the experience and appreciation of how the right combination of capital and strategic operating expertise can improve the success of a sports franchise.
Applying the same practices to a WNBA franchise would be a new challenge, but Rawlinson is embracing what she called a “melting moment” for Heaven and the league.
“I believe in the team’s future,” Rawlinson said. “This isn’t just a passion. This is a real financial asset for my family. You don’t randomly invest in asset classes that you don’t think will give you returns, right? I think in the future focus on the team. I think it’s a great bet.”
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A Lake Forest native, Rawlinson’s affinity for the sky stemmed from basketball in Chicago. She grew up during the golden days of the bull – trying trick-or-treating at Michael Jordan’s house as a kid, celebrating her 16th birthday in the rough seats of the game, and sneaking out to take Mitra downtown with friends to celebrate her 16th birthday. 1997 championship.
But Rawlinson also sees her new role with Sky as an opportunity to invest in the many intersectional communities that are often overlooked in the development of the sport, including women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
As a black woman, Rawlinson said she has spent most of her career feeling alienated. In Heaven, she saw an opportunity to commit to a different kind of environment—a privilege created “for women by women, especially women of color.”
“You have to really walk around these spaces that weren’t built for you,” Rawlinson said. “I want to be able to pay it forward and make things better and easier for the next generation, the next woman, the next person of color, and make the future the way I think it should be.
“If I can do it within organizations like the Sports, within women’s sports, within the W in particular and then in Chicago – you can’t get any better than that.”