The Utah Royals are back in the NWSL
The GIST: It’s officially official: the Utah Royals are back in the NWSL. The owners of MLS’ Real Salt Lake (RSL) announced the launch of the sister team on Saturday, confirming that the club will begin play in 2024 with a new look, a new group of investors and a new sponsor.
The recap: Under the leadership of then–RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen, the Royals initially began play in 2018 and immediately emerged as one of the NWSL’s more successful franchises. In its two years of operation, the Royals’ average attendance was 11K, and its $2M sponsorship deal with utility management brand Conserverice was one of the most lucrative in the NWSL.
- In 2020, though, Hansen was ousted for racist remarks, and the Royals folded and relocated to KC as the Current. However, the NWSL left RSL’s eventual new owners the option to revive the Royals for just $2M.
- The other two markets to reportedly win NWSL’s expansion race — the Bay Area and Boston — paid around $50M each, making the decision to come back to the NWSL a no-brainer for the new owners.
The owners: Sports team owner extraordinaire David Blitzer and Smith Entertainment Group leader Ryan Smith bought RSL last year and now add the Royals to their portfolio. The club also added 42 Futbol Group — a five-person consortium — as investors over the weekend.
- Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman and Philadelphia 76ers exec Daryl Morey are part of 42 Futbol Group, who were on the search to invest in a women’s sports team before landing on the Royals. A wise strategy.
The sponsor: America First Credit Union will extend its partnership with RSL to become the Royals’ front-of-jersey sponsor. The deal is reportedly one of the most high-paying in the league but ranks behind Angel City FC’s low eight-figure deal with DoorDash.
The consideration: Given that reproductive rights were a factor in the NWSL’s expansion decisions and Utah restricts gender-affirming care for trans youth, the Royals have instituted an appropriate policy: the club will reimburse staff for travel and lodging costs if they cannot obtain a medical procedure in the state.
Zooming out: Though the Royals’ reboot comes as little surprise, the merits of the franchise’s first life speak for itself. The $2M entry fee also means the ownership group is poised to score an exponential ROI as the NWSL continues to grow and as it posts a clean bill of business health. A new take on something old, something new.