NWSL’s expansion race is nearing the finish line
The GIST: The winners of the NWSL’s expansion race are nearing the finish line. According to a Friday report, the league will award franchises to Utah, San Francisco and Boston — one more market than originally anticipated — and will collect around $100 million in the process.
The details: San Francisco and Boston beat reported finalist Tampa for a prized NWSL team, and ownership groups will pay around $50 million each in expansion fees. Utah’s owners, meanwhile, will spend between $2 and $5 million thanks to a pre-existing agreement. The western teams will enter the league in 2024, while Boston’s arrival is TBD.
- Utah’s bid is led by businessmen David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who bought MLS’ Real Salt Lake last year. Their purchase included the option to reboot the Utah Royals for a fixed fee after the team relocated to Kansas City in 2020.
- As for the other new owners, San Francisco’s entry is backed by private equity firm Sixth Street and a quartet of USWNT legends, while Boston’s ownership group is led by local entrepreneur Jennifer Epstein.
The context: These latest expansion fees mark a serious upgrade from the NWSL’s 2020 expansion search, when Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave bought in for around $2 to $5 million each.
- Team valuations are also soaring — the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are reportedly worth around $40 million each, while Angel City valued itself at $100 million a year before its first game. Talk about exponential growth.
The comparison: A $50 million NWSL entry fee may signal exciting things for the WNBA, another league looking to expand after posting impressive business wins in 2022. The price tag for a new WNBA franchise was quoted at $15 to $20 million last year, but commissioner Cathy Engelbert might be right to suggest that it “sounds low.”
Zooming out: The fees also mark the first up-to-date value on the NWSL’s assets since its record-breaking 2022 season, but definitely not the last — the league is currently on the hunt for a new broadcast rights partner. Don’t sleep on the NWSL.
- And the hype couldn’t be more timely. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is less than six months away and promises to drum up interest for the sport in the U.S. and globally.