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Oakland Ballers announce fans can purchase ownership shares

Oakland Ballers announce fans can purchase ownership shares
Oakland Ballers announce fans can purchase ownership shares

Fans of the Oakland Ballers will have the opportunity to purchase shares in the Pioneer League baseball club, the team announced Thursday.

The announcement marked the start of the official test phase of the crowdfunding process, where anyone interested in participating in the Ballers’ funding round can indicate how much financial contribution they are willing to make.

The official crowdfunding phase, in which investors can acquire shares in the team, will begin in about four weeks. The financing round will be held on Dealmaker.

Ballers co-founder Paul Freedman said the team was inspired by the Oakland Roots/Soul Soccer Club’s crowdfunding effort last summer that raised nearly $2 million. The Ballers want to take the fan-investor relationship a step further than the Roots by giving fan-owners voting rights on key issues related to the team’s governance. The Ballers believe they are the first U.S. professional sports team to offer fans the opportunity to purchase voting shares in the team.

“We hope it’s a model that other teams that really put fans first can follow,” Freedman said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation CF limits the information the Ballers can disclose about those voting rights at this stage of the process, but Ballers co-founder Bryan Carmel said that fan-owners’ voice in the running of the team is critical to their goals for the club.

For more information about the funding round, visit invest.oaklandballers.com.

“We believe that the relationship between teams and communities is fundamentally breaking down — that social contract is breaking down,” Freedman said. “The right way to fix that is to give fans not just an economic stake, like the Roots have done, but actual voting rights, like the ability to decide things that are important to them, like whether the team can relocate or other things that are proven to be most important to them.”

Carmel said that by creating an IPO, the Ballers can ensure that local community ties are enshrined in the team’s charter.

“The fans will then really get involved and not only benefit from the economic advantage as others have done before them, but also have the opportunity to make decisions (about the direction of the team),” Carmel said.

The Ballers were formed in November, largely in response to the Oakland A’s decision to leave town and move to Las Vegas. Both Carmel and Freedman grew up as fans of the A’s and are committed to keeping Oakland’s rich baseball history alive. The current economic model for most professional sports in the U.S. is broken, Freedman said, especially as teams have moved to other cities and left communities.

“The solution (to manipulation of sports) is to give fans the opportunity to invest,” Freedman said. “If they believe in the team, if they love the team, then they can put their words into action, and in return the team should give them something in return, because that’s what they want – a say in important decisions.”

Since the team’s founding, the Ballers have donated $1.6 million to renovate West Oakland’s historic Raimondi Park, which is set to be the team’s home stadium starting in 2024. The renovation was completed on an accelerated 90-day schedule that was so hectic that Freedman said he’s still amazed they got it done.

The 4,000-seat stadium complex gives Freedman and Carmel easy access to the team’s fans at every home game, and they have used that time to talk to them about what they want to see from the team.

“I go home every night with long checklists of what we can do to improve the fan experience,” Carmel said. “People really like that. They realize when we say this team was truly built by Oakland, we mean it.”

“We are trying to show that there is another way that can be beneficial for both the fans and the team.”

The Ballers have averaged 1,712 fans at their 22 home games so far. Carmel is optimistic that attendance will continue to increase in future seasons as word of mouth spreads. The team’s existing agreement with the city of Oakland to play at the Raimondi is only for this season, but the team and the city are currently in active discussions about extending the agreement for several years.

“That’s the direction it’s going. It’s very positive,” Freedman said.

One of those fans at the Raimondi last weekend was Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who attended a game the day after returning from a world tour.

The Ballers have hosted numerous community events in Raimondi and the surrounding West Oakland neighborhood, and recently honored Maybelle Blair, one of the legendary members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League who was immortalized in the film A League of Their Own.

Blair met Kelsie Whitmore, the Ballers’ right-handed pitcher who earlier this season became the first woman in Pioneer League history to start a game.

The Ballers have also discussed playing a game at the Oakland Coliseum next season. The A’s have blocked the Ballers’ attempts to play a game there this season. The Roots are expected to be tenants of the Coliseum next year and there are indications that they would be willing to allow the Ballers to play a game there, assuming it is feasible to convert the field from football to baseball.

“We’re very optimistic that we’ll play a game — if not more — at the Coliseum in the future,” Freedman said. “The fact that there will be soccer at the Coliseum is fantastic, but the Coliseum is for baseball and needs to have baseball in the future.”

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(Photo of Whitmore warming up for her historic start at Raimondi Park: Penny Collins/NurPhoto via Associated Press)

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