On the latest Sporticast episode, hosts Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams speak with NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman about the league’s record-setting expansion process, the momentum behind investment in women’s sports, and the influx of private equity money across the industry.
Last week the NWSL announced its most recent expansion team—a franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area that paid a league-record $53 million fee to join NWSL in 2024. It’s a significant uptick from just a few years ago, when most teams were valued in the single-digit millions. The new franchise is majority owned (and controlled) by private equity giant Sixth Street, with minority investors that include former Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg and four former USWNT players—Danielle Slaton, Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Aly Wagner.
Sixth Street’s investment is just the latest major push by a private equity firm into sports. The NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS have all changed their ownership rules in the past few years to allow PE firms to buy passive minority stakes in teams, but Sixth Street’s status as control owner is a totally different concept. Berman breaks down the typical concerns that come with having a private equity firm as a team’s main decision-maker, and highlights three main issues: 1) leagues prefer to have a single person who can pick up the phone and make quick decisions if needed, 2) leagues want to ensure that there’s a direct tie between the decision-makers and the money, and 3) PE firms often have a sell-by date for investments, which could create misaligned incentives.
She also talks about the safeguards that the NWSL put in place with Sixth Street to protect the league. There is no contract language the prevents the firm from selling within a certain period of time, but there are other obligations.
Lastly, they talk about the league’s next media contract. The NWSL is currently in early stage talks on its next contract, and many around the league view that process as an important barometer to measure the league’s recent commercial growth.
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