Bay Area Group bullish as NWSL expansion offer deadline approaches

A certainly busy National Women’s Soccer League off-season will shortly have a pool of expansion teams to consider.

Prospective owner groups have until Friday to submit their bids, with play expected to begin in 2025. Commissioner Jessica Berman said late last week she expected five to 10 “meaningful” offers after up to 82 groups expressed interest.

The bids won’t be announced immediately, but Berman anticipates a “mitigation process” before deciding who has a chance.

Danielle Slaton, one of four leaders of the Bay Area expansion group (along with Leslie Osborne, Aly Wagner and Brandi Chastain), is optimistic about the chances of a team being awarded the region.

“We are convinced of it,” she said. “We are happy to represent our case.”

The Bay Area expansion group was formed in June to gauge interest and champion one of the expansion slots.

Other ownership groups that have been vocal about admitting a team are in Austin, Cincinnati, Toronto and Nashville, as well as the burgeoning St. Louis MLS club.

In July, the NWSL hired investment bank Inner Circle Sports to lead the sale of two new teams, the first time it had worked with a bank during its expansion process.

One of the two expansion points is probably already taken into account. David Blitzer, who bought the Real Salt Lake MLS club last year, owns the rights to the Utah Royals to bring back. The former Utah franchise moved to Kansas City to become the current after ownership passed to the league in 2020.

Blitzer has a roughly $2 million option to bring back the royals, which is well below the $20 million to $50 million expansion fee the league is asking for. According to Sportico, the option, which dates back to the original royals’ move in 2020, was originally priced at $500,000.

The league rating has gone up significantly since the last time there was a team in Utah, earning them a deep discount. Berman said last week that league sponsorships were up 87% year over year.

The Royals were originally owned by former RSL boss Dell Loy Hansen and played three NWSL seasons from 2018-20. Hansen sold the team after allegations of racist behavior and the royals relocated. When Blitzer bought RSL, an option for ownership rights to the Royals was included.

The Current was beaten 2-0 by Portland in Saturday’s NWSL championship game. Kansas City paid a $5 million expansion fee as it retained the entire Utah roster and earlier this year invested in an $18 million practice facility, the first of its kind in the NWSL.

The league’s California teams — San Diego expansion and Angel City in Los Angeles — were success stories. Angel City paid for the $2 million expansion request from two years ago, but the Washington Spirit recently sold for $35 million. San Diego was originally intended to become a club in Sacramento, but the NWSL Board of Governors approved owners Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez’s plan to move their territorial rights to Southern California. Chastain and Osborne had been pushing for the Sacramento-based California Storm WPSL to be upgraded to the NWSL.

Slaton also chairs US Soccer’s committee to oversee implementation of recommendations in the Yates report — released Oct. 3, which outlined a set of recommendations after sexual and emotional abuse scandals swept the NWSL and US football – and has the current problems on the mind of the NWSL.

“Part of what we believe is so compelling to us, specifically that we’re a group led by players who focus on the voice of the players and focus on keeping our players at the center,” she said. “We just feel like it’s such an asset to bring to the league.”

All four potential owners of the Bay Area group are former Santa Clara University players who have represented the US women’s national team and have had careers involving 10 professional teams domestically and internationally.

Slaton hopes player-based ownership gives the Bay Area group an advantage and also becomes the norm.

Ownership groups in Portland, Chicago and Louisville could also see changes depending on the outcome of the upcoming joint NWSL/NWSLPA investigation amid the fallout from the Yates report, giving the league a whole new landscape.

“We’re on the home stretch.”

Marisa Ingemi is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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