Oakland Ballers announce fans can purchase ownership shares

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

The announcement opened the official “testing the waters” phase of the crowdfunding process, which will allow anyone interested in being involved in the Ballers’ funding round to indicate what level of financial commitment they’d be willing to invest.

In roughly four weeks, the official crowdfunding period will open, which will allow investors to buy shares in the team. The funding round will be hosted on Dealmaker.

Ballers co-founder Paul Freedman said the team was inspired by the Oakland Roots/Soul soccer club crowdfunding effort last summer, which raised nearly $2 million. The Ballers are looking to take the fan-investor relationship a step further than the Roots did, allowing fan-owners to have voting rights on important issues related to how the team is run. The Ballers believe they are the first U.S. professional sports team to offer fans the opportunity to buy voting shares in the team.

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

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation CF limits how many details the Ballers can disclose about those voting rights at this stage in the process, but Ballers’ co-founder Bryan Carmel said having input from their fan owners in how the team is run is essential to what they are looking to accomplish with the club.

Further information about the funding round can be found at invest.oaklandballers.com.

“We think fundamentally the relationship between teams and communities is breaking — that social contract is breaking,” Freedman said. “The right way to fix it is to actually give fans not just an economic stake, which the Roots did, but actually voting rights, like the ability to decide things that they care about, like whether the team can move, or other things they have demonstrated that matter the most to them.”

Carmel said that by creating a public offering, the Ballers can ensure being ingrained in the local community is written into the team’s bylaws.

“Fans will then have real skin in the game and not just the economic upside, which other people have done before, but the ability to make decisions (about the direction of the team),” Carmel said.

The Ballers were launched in November in large part as a response to the Oakland A’s decision to leave the city for Las Vegas. Both Carmel and Freedman grew up A’s fans and set out to keep Oakland’s rich baseball history alive. The economic model currently in place for most professional sports in the U.S. is broken, said Freedman, especially as teams have moved cities and left communities behind.

“The solution to (fixing sports) is to allow fans to invest,” Freedman said. “If they believe in the team, if they love the team, then they can put their money where their mouth is, and then in exchange, the team should give them something for that, which is what they want — the say in key decision-making.”

Since launching the team, the Ballers have donated $1.6 million to renovate historic Raimondi Park in West Oakland to be the team’s home ballpark in 2024. The renovation was completed on an expedited 90-day schedule that was so frenetic Freedman said he’s still amazed they were able to get it done.

The 4,000-seat park offers Freedman and Carmel easy access to the team’s fans at every home game, and they’ve been taking advantage of that time to talk to them about what they want to see from the team.

“I leave with long checklists every night of what we can do to make the fan experience better,” Carmel said. “People really like that. They notice when we say this team is really built by Oakland, we really mean it.

“What we’re trying to do is show that there’s another way to do this that can be beneficial both for the fans and for the team.”

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

“That is the direction that it’s headed. It’s been very positive,” Freedman said.

Last weekend, one of those fans at Raimondi 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 at Raimondi and its surrounding West Oakland neighborhood. They recently honored Maybelle Blair, one of the legendary members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was memorialized in the film, A League of Their Own.

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

The Ballers have also had discussions about hosting a game at the Oakland Coliseum next season. The A’s blocked the Ballers’ attempts to play a game there this season. The Roots are expected to be tenants of the Coliseum next year and indications are that they’d be amenable to allowing the Ballers to play a game there, provided it’s feasible to switch the field from soccer to baseball.

“We’re very optimistic we’ll play one game — if not more — at the Coliseum in the future,” Freedman said. “The fact that there’s gonna be soccer at the Coliseum is fantastic, but the Coliseum is meant for baseball, and it’s gotta have baseball in the future, as well.”

Required reading

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

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