Prospective owners from Boston, Tampa and San Francisco are finalists to land the NWSL's 14th franchise
The GIST: Three cities just received roses from the NWSL. Per a Friday report, prospective owners from Boston, Tampa and San Francisco are finalists to land the league’s 14th franchise and are willing to pay up. The highest opening bid is “well over” $40 million, outpacing the $2 to $5 million the NWSL’s last expansion teams paid in 2020.
The cities: San Francisco’s bid was put forward in June by four former USWNT players, and since then, private equity firm Sixth Street has come on as a major backer. Sixth Street is already involved in the sports world — it has a minority stake in the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Spanish soccer powerhouse Real Madrid.
- Tampa’s candidacy is fronted by Stuart Sternberg, the majority owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.
- The heads of Boston’s women-led bid are unknown, but the group of investors includes venture capital exec Anna Palmer as well as Linda Henry, co-owner of MLB’s Boston Red Sox and English soccer club Liverpool FC.
The process: Four groups reportedly made their case at the NWSL’s owner meetings in NYC earlier this month, after which league leadership narrowed the list down to three by rejecting Cleveland’s bid, fronted by a local film exec.
- NWSL higher-ups have also already conducted site visits in Boston, San Francisco and Tampa, and will choose one of the markets early next year.
The context: The 14th franchise will likely be joined by one in Salt Lake City, where MLS’ Real Salt Lake (RSL) plans to exercise its option to re-enter the league for $2 million. The city was home to the Utah Royals from 2018 to 2020, which operated under RSL’s umbrella until owner Dell Loy Hansen was forced to sell the teams for racist and abusive behavior.
- The Royals relocated to Kansas City in 2020, but RSL’s new ownership — now led by the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers owner David Blitzer — had a fixed entry fee to revive the team and quickly committed to a royal reboot.
Zooming out: An NWSL expansion team is officially a hot ticket item worth tens of millions, and it’s not hard to see why — 915K tuned into the NWSL’s primetime championship in October, and the league saw ticket revenue increase 125% and sponsorship revenue rise almost 90% YoY in 2022. The numbers speak for themselves.