The National Women’s Soccer League’s Utah Royals are relocating to Kansas City ahead of the 2021 season. The league’s board of governors approved the Missouri-based club as an expansion team on Monday after a sale that was structured to allow for a future re-establishment of the Royals franchise in Utah in 2023 by new ownership. Kansas City residents Angie and Chris Long, of asset management firm Palmer Square Capital Management, lead the mostly female ownership group for the new team. Marketing executive Jen Gulvik, now the new Kansas City team president, and former professional soccer player and fitness entrepreneur Brittany Matthews are also among the group.
Per the league’s announcement, all player rights, draft picks, and “certain other assets formerly held by Utah Royals FC” will transfer to the new team in Kansas City.
“Chris and I could not be more ecstatic to welcome a team back to Kansas City, especially as the league has been transformed by innovative leadership and explosive growth,” Angie Long said in a press release. “We are committed to getting this right—for our team and our town. We can’t wait for the players and the country to see what we have long known: There’s something special about living in Kansas City and something even more special about playing here.”
The sale of the franchise comes after both MLS and the NWSL launched investigations into Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen. An alleged history of racist comments made by Hansen, who also owns MLS’s Real Salt Lake and its reserve team, Real Monarchs, was uncovered this summer, prompting an ownership reevaluation by both leagues. Major League Soccer said Hansen intends to sell his stakes within the men’s soccer organization as well.
The Utah Royals began play in 2018 when Hansen bought the rights to the NWSL’s then-defunct franchise FC Kansas City. The new club will bring women’s soccer back to Kansas City, where the former franchise served as one of the NWSL’s eight founding clubs. FC Kansas City won back-to-back NWSL championships in 2014 and 2015.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our league, and I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Kansas City back to the NWSL,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. “Kansas City is a soccer-rich community, and this fantastic ownership group is ready and able to commit the resources necessary for this club to be a massive success. I’d also like to thank the fans in Utah for their incredible support of the NWSL.”
Racing Louisville FC will join also the NWSL in 2021 when Kansas City comes back into the league’s fold. Angel City FC, the league’s expansion team based in Los Angeles, will take the pitch starting in 2022.
Chuck Baker, co-chair of international law firm O’Melveny & Myers’ Sports Industry group, and O’Melveny counsel Eric Geffner represented the Longs in securing the exclusive right to bring a professional women’s soccer team to Kansas City and related equity financing. This is the second recent NWSL transaction handled by O’Melveny, which also represented Angel City FC.
Angel City’s ownership group is similarly predominantly female, led by actress Natalie Portman, tech venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media and gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian, who led the investment with his Initialized Capital fund. Los Angeles’s expansive investor ownership group also includes more than a dozen former U.S. Women’s National Team players, tennis greats Billie Jean King and Serena Williams, WNBA star Candace Parker, Olympian Lindsey Vonn and a long list of Hollywood A-listers.