The NWSL is planning to add teams in both the Bay Area and Boston in the coming years, with both ownership groups set to pay expansion fees in excess of $50 million, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.
The NWSL, which is also welcoming an expansion franchise in Utah, voted to approve the moves two weeks ago, prior to the league’s draft in Philadelphia, said one of the people, who was granted anonymity because the details are private. Neither deal is done, the people said.
The three teams would bring the league’s total to 15, one more than originally planned. The Bay Area group, backed by private equity giant Sixth Street and a handful of former USWNT players, would join the league in 2024, alongside Utah, which is buying into the league at a heavily discounted rate. The Boston team, backed by a number of local businesswomen, would join the league at a later date, the people said.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the news. Representatives for the NWSL and Sixth Street declined to comment. Representatives for the Boston group and Inner Circle Sports, the bank hired to run the process, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The $50+ million fee, if executed, reflects a dramatic rise in valuation for the NWSL. A few years ago, teams were paying $2 million to $5 million to join the league, but the floor has risen steeply in the past 18 months. The Washington, D.C., franchise sold early last year for a league record $35 million. The New York area franchise raised money a few months later at a roughly $40 million valuation. Angel City FC, which joined the league in 2022, has raised money at a valuation north of $100 million.
The Salt Lake City franchise’s expansion fee is a relic of that earlier, less lucrative era. The original Utah team was relocated to Kansas City in 2020, and at the time the team’s owners—the backers of MLS club Real Salt Lake—were given a $500,000 option to buy back into the league at a later date. When sports owner David Blitzer bought RSL last year, he acquired that option, which was raised to $2 million, according to sources.
The result will be a strange dynamic. Two teams will join NWSL in 2024 and one will likely pay 25x what the other paid as an expansion fee.
The Bay Area bid was principally backed by Sixth Street, alongside USWNT players Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton and Leslie Osborne. The Boston bid is being led by a group of local businesswomen, including Juno Equity founder Jennifer Epstein and consultant Stephanie Connaughton, whose previous roles include time at Bain and Procter & Gamble. (Epstein is the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein; Connaughton is the wife of Celtics investor John Connaughton).
The Boston group also includes Anna Palmer of Flybridge, a venture capital firm, and Linda Henry. Henry, who was also part of the WNBA’s $75 million raise earlier this year, is the CEO of Boston Globe Media Partners and co-owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC. She is the wife of Fenway Sports Group’s John Henry.