⚽Price for newest NWSL expansion team could reach up to $50 million
The GIST: The price tag for the NWSL’s 14th club is steadily increasing. According to a recent report, the league could collect as much as $50 million for its newest expansion team, significantly more than the $5 million fee the Kansas City Current paid in 2020. Traveling at the speed of light.
The details: A long list of prospective buyers (mostly MLS ownership groups) are driving the demand, as they are reportedly impressed by the NWSL’s increased professionalism, investment back into the league and the opportunity to double in-stadium inventory.
- Now, the NWSL is narrowing the search criteria to three key categories — quality of the ownership group, facilities and geographic market. Ready those pitches.
The trend: Valuations for existing NWSL clubs are up, too. In April 2021, brand new club Angel City FC was worth an NWSL record $100 million. The LA team is valued at around 10x its sponsorship revenue — it’s expected to rake in $10 million from partnerships this year.
- A pair of NWSL originals are also posting increased valuations. Michele Kang purchased a majority stake in the Washington Spirit when it was valued at $35 million in February, and NJ/NY Gotham FC is reportedly worth $40 million.
- For context, team valuation in younger leagues relies on potential ROI, unlike more established counterparts. MLS clubs value themselves at approximately 12.2x revenue, much higher than the NFL (7.6x) and MLB (6.7x).
The fee: Over in the WNBA, at least a $15 million expansion fee will apply for its next team, though commissioner Cathy Engelbert called that figure “low.” Entering the WNBA or NWSL is much more affordable than MLS, however — newcomer Charlotte FC paid $325 million in 2019.
Zooming out: The NWSL continues to make a case for being one of sports’ hottest properties and the timing couldn’t be better. With less than a year until the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the expansion race in full swing, women’s soccer fever should hit 200 degrees in no time.
⚽Weekly sales of women's soccer gear tripled during Women's Euro
The GIST: This summer's hottest soccer tournament, the Women’s Euro, continues to deliver. The latest example? Merchandise sales. Fanatics revealed Friday that the weekly sales of women’s soccer gear tripled during the July tournament.
The details: Fanatics also scored by being an official apparel partner of England’s Euro-winning team. The Lionesses’ merch purchases skyrocketed 640% in the four hours following England’s 2–1 win over Germany, netting more sales than during the entire week leading up to the final. Shop ’til you drop.
- England fans’ buying intent didn’t end there. Searches for “football sports bra” surged over 1,590% after Chloe Kelly ripped off her jersey to celebrate the game-winning goal, and sales of coach Sarina Wiegman’s Marks & Spencer suit rose 140% en route to the final.
The context: Global sales of Fanatics’ women’s sports merch increased by 28% last year, reflecting the industry’s growth. The overall women’s sports apparel market was valued at $26.8 billion in 2018, and businesses like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike took notice. Companies have been increasing women’s team inventory to meet the rising demand.
- But brands are still playing catch-up. Even Nike initially made just 1K jerseys following the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup win, leaving fans scrambling and providing a catalyst for the team’s players union to launch its own shop last month.
Zooming out: There’s plenty of opportunity in the apparel space — the women’s sportswear industry is rising just as steadily as women’s sports, and leaders have already marked womenswear as their next major growth venture.
- Nike’s already anteing up. The sports giant grew its womenswear business by 20% to $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2021, and is prioritizing the vertical in its future growth plans. Can’t argue with those numbers.
⚽The history of women's soccer in Britain
⚽ The history
It reads like a Hollywood script. Over a century before England won that shiny Euro trophy in front of a packed Wembley Stadium, British women were blazing trails and setting soccer attendance records.
Women started kicking the ball around in the late 1800s, but the sport really exploded during World War I. With men’s competitive footy suspended from 1915 to 1919 due to the Great War, British women stepped up to fill the gap.
- Working in factories during the war, U.K. women competed in company-sponsored soccer clubs. They played charity matches that drew fans by the thousands. Munitions by day, bullets to the back of the net by night.
Even after the war ended and the men eventually returned to the pitch, the women’s game was still booming. On Boxing Day in 1920, over 53K fans (!!!) watched the famous Dick, Kerr Ladies beat St. Helen’s Ladies 4–0 in Liverpool, and an additional 10K to 15K were turned away at the gates.
- The match raised the equivalent of about $190K for charity and set an overall U.K. women’s soccer attendance record that stood until the 2012 London Olympics — 92 years later. The game still clocks in as the biggest women’s domestic match in England’s history. Incredible.
🚫 The ban
And of course, that’s where things fell apart. Men returned to both factories and footy after the war, but the women’s company-sponsored matches were still drawing record crowds — often surpassing the audiences at men’s league games.
- The Football Association (FA) and governmental big-wigs couldn’t control the money raised by the women’s bouts — funds were no longer contributing to war efforts, but instead supporting working-class causes that threatened the establishment’s power.
- So a year later, on December 5th, 1921, the FA banned women’s footy from all FA–affiliated grounds, saying “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.” Patriarchy at its finest.
While the FA couldn’t completely ban women from playing, it did halt the incredible momentum of women’s soccer by rendering crowds of any real measure impossible. Women’s teams could only play in parks, on public fields or at sympathetic rugby or athletics clubs, with nowhere near the capacity of FA pitches.
- We know “if you build it, they will come” rings true, but this proved the opposite — if you take away access, interest and fan fervor will dry up.
💪 Stubborn success
Despite the ban, female players were undeterred. The women’s game persisted under the radar, and no team was more successful than the aforementioned Dick, Kerr Ladies from Preston, England, a squad sponsored by a local factory.
The star of that team? Lily Parr, a striker whose foot was so powerful, she reportedly broke the arm of a male professional goalkeeper and kept the remnants of a crossbar, damaged by another epic shot, in her trophy case. Legend.
- Parr notched over 900 goals in her 31-year career, including 43 during her first season…at only 14 (!!!) years old. It’s no wonder Scottish Football Hall of Famer Bobby Walker considered her a peer, calling Parr “the best natural timer of a football” he’d ever seen. Damn straight.
Twenty-four years after her death, Parr finally received her flowers. In 2002, she became the first woman ever inducted into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame. As for the Dick, Kerr Ladies? They remain the most successful women’s team of all time. GOATs all around.
📈 Re-growing pains
The FA finally lifted the ban in 1971, but women’s footy in the U.K. struggled to rise to its previous heights. One stark example of the lack of support? During the 1995 Women’s World Cup, English players didn’t have a bus to take them to their quarter-final. Is hitchhiking still a thing?
- Players were considered amateurs and worked other full-time jobs, forcing them to to squeeze in training sessions. It wasn’t until the 2000s that the country started putting pounds into the women’s game, instituting the first youth programs and offering small semi-pro contracts.
- The creation of the Women’s Super League in 2010 allowed more players to incrementally boost their pay and cut back on survival gigs. But it wasn’t until 2018, amidst a Barclays sponsorship and increasing interest in media rights, that the FA finally made it mandatory for women’s clubs to be both pro and full-time. About damn time.
🎉 Celebrating today and fighting for tomorrow
England’s women are now attracting the crowds and recognition first captured by the sport’s pioneers. And despite the U.K.’s deep history of blocking women’s participation in the beautiful game, 2022 has been a year for the books.
- British women’s soccer is now 50 years into its rebirth, but only four into full professionalization. Considering the country hadn’t won a major soccer tourney in 56 years — since before the ban was lifted in 1971 — the trophy the Lionesses just hoisted hits that much deeper.
- And exactly like their (gr)ass-kicking predecessors, today’s squad is demanding more. The champs are fighting for girls’ access to soccer across the U.K., calling out the government for better physical education and opportunities in schools. Hear that? It’s the Dick, Kerr Ladies and the 2022 Lionesses roaring together.
⚽English women's soccer ecosystem sees "halo effect" following Women's Euro win
The GIST: The Women’s Euro halo effect continues. England’s women’s soccer ecosystem is reaping the rewards of the national team’s tournament win, and power brokers may be planning to shake up the status quo to pounce on the opportunity. Lioness-hearted, indeed.
The balance sheet: As it predicted, UEFA will suffer a loss for this year’s Euro despite the organization earning a projected $60.9 million in sponsorship revenue after opting to sell inventory for women’s and men’s events separately. The European governing body expects revenue figures to increase for future tourneys.
The ripple effect: But the revenue — and champagne — is still flowing. The Lionesses will play to a sold-out Wembley Stadium again on October 7th when it hosts the USWNT. Tickets to the friendly went on sale Tuesday and all 87K were claimed within 24 hours, making it the fastest sellout of a women’s match outside of a major event. Literally here today, gone tomorrow.
- The rising tide is also lifting the Women’s Super League (WSL), whose season kicks off next month. Nine clubs are reporting an uptick in match and season ticket sales. Manchester City — which boasts Euro final hero Chloe Kelly on its roster — said its season ticket count has doubled to sit at an all-time high.
The restructure: The post-Euro hype could accelerate the WSL’s eventual break from the Football Association (FA), English soccer’s governing body that runs the league. Per a Tuesday report, a majority of WSL clubs want an independent chief executive appointed, as they fear the FA will be too slow to capitalize on the current momentum.
- They may have a point. The FA only charged adults a shocking $12 for the aforementioned England–USWNT match, netting a mere $600K in revenue, and the body decided to forego a bid to host the 2027 or 2031 Women’s World Cup in lieu of focusing on the 2028 men’s Euro. *rolls eyes*
- The matter is an urgent one for the WSL. The league’s three-year broadcast deal with Sky and the BBC expires in 2024, and clubs are hoping a business-oriented exec can significantly top the current $18.2 million annual package.
Zooming out: Many women’s sports entities were created with backing from either a men’s sports counterpart or a governing body. And several, like the WNBA, excelled in that model. But if the WSL’s ambitious split succeeds, it could recalibrate perceptions on thriving business models for women’s sports.
- Hybrid models are emerging, too. The NWSL launched in 2012 under the U.S. Soccer Federation’s (USSF) leadership, and the two still have a formal partnership. The USSF, though, stopped managing the league early last year. Watch this space.
⚽NWSL club NJ/NY Gotham FC sees increased exposure with Sue Bird, other famous investors
The GIST: NJ/NY Gotham FC has scored a star-studded investment roster. As mentioned last week, WNBA icon Sue Bird and two-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning joined a growing list of famous investors in the NWSL club on Friday, with Gotham now valued at a reported league-record $40 million.
- The investment continues the trend of rising valuations and celebrity dollars in the NWSL, a move that Gotham’s chief business officer Andrea Pagnanelli told The GIST boosts the club’s exposure. Star power.
The investors: Per Sportico, Bird and Manning joined the ownership group after NBA star Kevin Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman invested in May, with former USWNT and ex-Gotham player Carli Lloyd doing the same just a week earlier. Pagnanelli said more minority co-owners with local ties are on the way.
The celebrity impact: Simply put, investments from high-profile people increases Gotham’s profile. “We’re just managing up to a lot more owners who want visibility and to owners who can help,” she said. “[It] allows us to make decisions quicker, open doors.”
- Bird and Lloyd’s investments, Pagnanelli said, is driving “new reach.” The exec noted that the club’s Instagram following rose by 2K after Lloyd’s investment announcement, while Bird resonates with the fanbase.
The proof-point: A-list investors are en vogue in the NWSL, perhaps pioneered by LA-based Angel City FC. The club co-founded by Natalie Portman counts over 100 micro-investors in its ownership group, many of whom are high-profile Hollywood or sports figures.
- With names like Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain and Mia Hamm on board, the club booked $35 million in commercial revenue before its first game in April.
Gotham’s context: Gotham has revved up from zero to 100 over the last four seasons. The club upgraded from 5K-seater Yurcak Field to the 25K-capacity Red Bull Arena just before the March 2020 pandemic shutdown, and rebranded from Sky Blue FC to Gotham in April 2021.
- This year marks the club’s first full season with fans at the upgraded venue. We love a makeover.
Zooming out: Pagnanelli noted the celeb investment is mutually beneficial. While Gotham actively courted minority owners, some of the newcomers approached the club of their own accord. From LA to NY, the women’s sports boom is attracting — and paying off for — new investors. As Pagnanelli said, “The time is now.”