The Los Angeles Sparks' ownership group has given up control of the WNBA team, one of the original eight franchises when the league was formed in 1997.

WNBA President Laurel Richie said Thursday that Sparks chairman Paula Madison informed the league before Christmas that her family-owned company would no longer be involved with the team.

Richie said the WNBA will take immediate control of the team and begin searching for a new ownership group. She said it was too early to tell whether the Sparks would be playing when the new WNBA season begins in four months.

All Sparks front office personnel, including the team's president and general manager, were laid off on New Year's Eve via email. The players, including star Candace Parker, have already been paid and their benefits will continue to be covered by the league.

The move comes after a banner year for the WNBA with attendance and television viewership both up.

"My initial response was one of surprise," Richie said. "Both in terms of how well the league was doing and is doing. I didn't have any prior communication from the team that this was going to happen."

Richie said that several groups have expressed interest in owning a WNBA team. She said that while final numbers aren't in yet from this past season, almost half the WNBA teams were profitable this year, though Los Angeles wasn't one of them.

The Sparks won WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002 and have made it to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons.

The WNBA had as many as 16 teams before several franchises folded, the last of which was Sacramento in 2009.

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