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NWSL Set to Expand With Record-Setting $50 Million Franchise Fees

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The National Women’s Soccer League is in advanced discussions to expand by three teams, according to people familiar with the situation, with two of those teams set to pay around $50 million each in franchise fees that dwarf previous payments required to enter the league.

The new teams are set to launch in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Utah. The Bay Area and Boston groups each have agreed to pay about $50 million for a team. Owners in Utah will pay between $2 million and $5 million, an arrangement agreed to a few years ago.

San Francisco and Utah are set to begin play in 2024, with Boston launching later.

The addition of three teams—more than what NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman had previously signaled she expected in the near-term—will bring the league to 15 teams. The franchise fees reflect growing interest in the decade-old league despite its recent off-field turmoil involving abuse allegations that an investigation found had been ignored for years by league executives.

As recently as 2020, when Los Angeles and San Diego groups made deals to join the league, franchise fees were $2 million-$5 million. The strength of those teams’ launches in 2022 helped propel interest in expansion, and spurred initial interest from dozens of interested parties, according to the league.

“We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects,” a league spokesperson said. “When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The expansion team in the Bay Area is backed by an investor group that includes private-equity firm Sixth Street Partners as well as former U.S. women’s team players Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton. Fans will remember Chastain as the player who ripped off her shirt and celebrated in a sports bra after she made the winning kick on penalties that put the U.S. past China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.

The Boston bid is backed by a women’s investment group that includes Jennifer Epstein, founder of Juno Equity and the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein. Boston was home to the Boston Breakers in two now-defunct leagues—the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer—and in the NWSL for the league’s first five years before the team folded in early 2018.

Utah’s team is another revival of sorts. A 2018-2020 NWSL franchise, the Utah Royals, folded and effectively transferred to Kansas City in December 2020 after players alleged the team’s owner at the time used racist language. NWSL leaders agreed the Utah franchise could be revived at a later date for a set fee. 

The NWSL, which launches its 11th season in March, has experienced quick if tumultuous growth. It is the third and longest-lasting top-tier women’s pro soccer league in the U.S., after two previous attempts folded after three seasons each. 

The NWSL features well-known U.S. women’s national team players such as Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, a growing base of national sponsors and rising TV ratings. 

Los Angeles-based Angel City FC led the league in attendance with more than 19,000 fans per game last year, and fellow newcomer San Diego Wave FC set the league’s single-game record with a crowd of 32,000 against Angel City. Most NWSL games stream on Paramount+, with a handful broadcast on

CBS

Sports Network or CBS in a three-year deal worth a total of about $5 million.

The deal expires after the upcoming season, and given the league’s growth and the rising appetite for live sports content, observers expect the value of the NWSL’s deal to grow significantly.

Recent years have brought reports of NWSL coaches sexually or verbally abusing players, and investigative reports commissioned by the league and the U.S. Soccer Federation found that the sport’s leaders had ignored such allegations for years. 

Numerous coaches and officials lost their jobs, the longtime owners of the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns have moved to sell their teams, and the league is in the process of implementing a range of reforms.

​​Nonetheless, team values in the NWSL have jumped. Michele Kang’s February 2022 ownership takeover of the Washington (D.C.) Spirit valued the franchise at $35 million. Soon after that, the New York/ New Jersey area’s Gotham FC raised money from new owners that valued the franchise at a reported $40 million. A Gotham spokeswoman said the team doesn’t disclose valuation information.

Write to Jessica Toonkel at [email protected] and Rachel Bachman at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



The National Women’s Soccer League is in advanced discussions to expand by three teams, according to people familiar with the situation, with two of those teams set to pay around $50 million each in franchise fees that dwarf previous payments required to enter the league.

The new teams are set to launch in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Utah. The Bay Area and Boston groups each have agreed to pay about $50 million for a team. Owners in Utah will pay between $2 million and $5 million, an arrangement agreed to a few years ago.

San Francisco and Utah are set to begin play in 2024, with Boston launching later.

The addition of three teams—more than what NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman had previously signaled she expected in the near-term—will bring the league to 15 teams. The franchise fees reflect growing interest in the decade-old league despite its recent off-field turmoil involving abuse allegations that an investigation found had been ignored for years by league executives.

As recently as 2020, when Los Angeles and San Diego groups made deals to join the league, franchise fees were $2 million-$5 million. The strength of those teams’ launches in 2022 helped propel interest in expansion, and spurred initial interest from dozens of interested parties, according to the league.

“We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects,” a league spokesperson said. “When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The expansion team in the Bay Area is backed by an investor group that includes private-equity firm Sixth Street Partners as well as former U.S. women’s team players Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton. Fans will remember Chastain as the player who ripped off her shirt and celebrated in a sports bra after she made the winning kick on penalties that put the U.S. past China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.

The Boston bid is backed by a women’s investment group that includes Jennifer Epstein, founder of Juno Equity and the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein. Boston was home to the Boston Breakers in two now-defunct leagues—the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer—and in the NWSL for the league’s first five years before the team folded in early 2018.

Utah’s team is another revival of sorts. A 2018-2020 NWSL franchise, the Utah Royals, folded and effectively transferred to Kansas City in December 2020 after players alleged the team’s owner at the time used racist language. NWSL leaders agreed the Utah franchise could be revived at a later date for a set fee. 

The NWSL, which launches its 11th season in March, has experienced quick if tumultuous growth. It is the third and longest-lasting top-tier women’s pro soccer league in the U.S., after two previous attempts folded after three seasons each. 

The NWSL features well-known U.S. women’s national team players such as Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, a growing base of national sponsors and rising TV ratings. 

Los Angeles-based Angel City FC led the league in attendance with more than 19,000 fans per game last year, and fellow newcomer San Diego Wave FC set the league’s single-game record with a crowd of 32,000 against Angel City. Most NWSL games stream on Paramount+, with a handful broadcast on

CBS

Sports Network or CBS in a three-year deal worth a total of about $5 million.

The deal expires after the upcoming season, and given the league’s growth and the rising appetite for live sports content, observers expect the value of the NWSL’s deal to grow significantly.

Recent years have brought reports of NWSL coaches sexually or verbally abusing players, and investigative reports commissioned by the league and the U.S. Soccer Federation found that the sport’s leaders had ignored such allegations for years. 

Numerous coaches and officials lost their jobs, the longtime owners of the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns have moved to sell their teams, and the league is in the process of implementing a range of reforms.

​​Nonetheless, team values in the NWSL have jumped. Michele Kang’s February 2022 ownership takeover of the Washington (D.C.) Spirit valued the franchise at $35 million. Soon after that, the New York/ New Jersey area’s Gotham FC raised money from new owners that valued the franchise at a reported $40 million. A Gotham spokeswoman said the team doesn’t disclose valuation information.

Write to Jessica Toonkel at [email protected] and Rachel Bachman at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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