Two of Chicago’s most prominent sports owners have expressed interest in buying the Chicago Red Stars, which hit the market in December. The Ricketts family, owners of MLB’s Chicago Cubs, and the family of longtime Chicago Bears minority owner Pat Ryan are part of two separate groups interested in the NWSL club, according to multiple sources familiar with the sale process who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The Red Stars and the NWSL did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Ricketts declined to comment. Attempts to reach the Ryans through the Bears were not immediately successful.
A deadline for formal bids for the franchise has not yet been set, according to one of the people, as the sale is still in early stages. Several groups have expressed interest, and a small set have submitted informal bids, the person said.
The Ryan family has not submitted a bid, nor is it part of any group that has, according to someone close to the family.
The Red Stars sale comes amid a significant jump in NWSL valuations. As recently as two years ago, most teams were valued in the low single-digit millions, but the league is on the verge of adding two expansion teams—one in the Bay Area and the other in Boston—at fees of more than $50 million. The ballooning expansion fees mirror rising valuations throughout the league: the Washington Spirit were valued at $35 million in early 2022; Gotham FC at $40 million a few months later; and Angel City FC, now entering its second season, has raised money at a valuation over $100 million.
At a press conference Monday, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said the league was not going to set an “artificial deadline” for the sales of Chicago or the Portland Thorns, both of which went up for sale late last year. Berman said the priority is finding the right ownership groups willing to invest adequately.
As Sportico first reported, Red Stars majority owner Arnim Whisler began the process of selling Chicago’s NWSL club in December after he was implicated in a pair of investigations into widespread abuse and rampant misconduct within the league. Whisler engaged investment bank Inner Circle Sports, which just led the NWSL’s expansion round, to facilitate the sale. A representative for Inner Circle declined to comment.
Whisler was a founding owner of the Red Stars, which debuted as a Women’s Professional Soccer team in 2007 and went on to become an NWSL franchise upon the league’s birth in 2013. The club was one of several caught up in the league-wide abuse scandal, news of which broke in 2021, and was particularly implicated in the pair of resulting reports.
Chicago was put up for sale the same day as the Thorns, which share an ownership group led by Merritt Paulson with MLS’ Portland Timbers. The most public bidder for the Thorns, an all-women investor group led by former Nike executive Melanie Strong, would reportedly value the three-time NWSL champions at $60 million. Chicago, which has significantly lower attendance and sponsorship revenues, is expected to sell for less.
The Ricketts family acquired controlling ownership of the Cubs and Wrigley Field in 2009. Patriarch Joe Ricketts, who founded the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, owns the franchise with his children; his son Tom Ricketts serves as the Cubs chairman. Last year, his daughter Laura Ricketts was reported to be in preliminary talks with Michael Alter, owner of the Chicago Sky, about potentially investing in the WNBA franchise.
A group led by the Ricketts family was also involved in the bidding for Premier League club Chelsea, which was ultimately sold to a group led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
Ryan is the billionaire founder and retired CEO of Aon, one of the world’s largest insurance brokers, and one of the largest donors to his alma mater, Northwestern University. In 2021, Ryan and his wife Shirley made the largest single gift—to the tune of $480 million—in Northwestern history, part of which was earmarked for the redevelopment of Ryan Field.
(This story has been updated to add information about the Ryan family’s status in the sale process.)