NWSL valuations have soared over the last several months.
As recently as two years ago, teams paid somewhere between $2 million and $5 million, roughly speaking, to enter the women’s soccer league. This February, the Washington Spirit were valued at $35 million in Michele Kang’s takeover; shortly afterward, Gotham FC raised money at what Sportico first reported as a $40 million valuation from new owners including Kevin Durant, Sue Bird and Eli Manning.
Newcomer Angel City, however, is in a league of its own. Before it made its NWSL debut, the club raised money in April 2021 at a valuation north of $100 million, according to multiple people familiar with the details. That number, more than double the next closest known NWSL franchise, is jarring. It’s partially a factor of the league’s commercial growth, the specific approach taken by Angel City’s celebrity-laden ownership, and optimism for soccer in the U.S., where notable investors have rushed to men’s and women’s leagues anticipating even more appreciation.
Christina Aguilera, Gabrielle Union, designer Rachel Zoe, Olympian Shawn Johnson East and former NFL player Andrew East were among the new limited partners welcomed in the record raise, joining the club’s lengthy list of A-list investors. Actresses Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Garner are among Angel City’s original owners, as are tennis legend Serena Williams and several former USWNT members, including Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach.
The nine-figure valuation is at least partially a product of how Angel City has approached ownership and operations, which more closely mirrors a startup or tech company than a sports team. The club has acquired funds by raising capital from many smaller stakeholders through what it called a “Series A” round. While Reddit co-founder turned venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian, who is married to Williams, holds the title of lead investor, the club’s ownership group has swelled to around 100 people, each of whom likely holds a much smaller stake than traditional minority shareholders in teams.
The club has also aggressively, and seemingly successfully, prioritized sponsorship dollars from brands both native and new to the sports landscape. With an eight-figure deal with food delivery service DoorDash and backing from PepsiCo’s Gatorade and Heineken, among others, Angel City claimed $35 million in booked sponsorship revenue (some of which is likely multiyear, and 10% of which is redirected back into the community) before the start of its inaugural season, according to club co-founder and president Julie Uhrman. On top of that, the team sold more than 16,000 season tickets.
“I would say that Angel City has more sponsorship revenue today than two hands worth of men’s professional sports teams,” Uhrman said at a Sportico event in March. “We believe our kit is the highest grossing of any women’s team in the U.S.”
The club, which is averaging upwards of 19,000 fans per game, is outdrawing 14 MLS clubs, and boasts more Instagram followers than 19 MLS franchises.
Angel City declined to comment on the valuation or funding round.
U.S. soccer clubs—both men’s and women’s—tend to be valued on projections of future growth, more so than franchises in any other major league. In MLS for example, new investors often point to the 2026 World Cup, co-hosted by the U.S., and the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles as potential accelerants to the business. The average MLS club is valued at 12.2x revenue, according to Sportico’s calculations, dramatically higher than in the NFL (7.6x) or MLB (6.7x).
Valuations across all leagues also tend to jump whenever a new, bigger media deal is on the way. The NFL’s largest single-year increase in average franchise value (1998) and the NHL’s two biggest such jumps (1998 and 2013) were all accompanied by a more than double-digit jump of those leagues’ media-rights values.
The NWSL could be on the verge of a similar boost. Its three-year partnership with CBS and Amazon’s Twitch do little to boost league coffers (though the deals are worth $4.5 million and $1 million, respectively, the NWSL shoulders production costs), but increasing viewership numbers and an influx of sponsor dollars indicate that will likely change when a new deal is struck. The league’s pact with Twitch ends this year, while CBS has an additional season of coverage because of COVID-19.
The soaring valuations have also reset the bar for future expansion fees. As the 12-team NWSL looks to add a pair of new franchises to likely begin play in 2024—slots that will be sold through its first formal bidding process led by investment bank Inner Circle Sports—sources around the league feel the new floor for women’s soccer franchises sits in the same range as the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC valuations, which could give an indication for where the expansion fee may end up.
One expansion club is widely assumed to be based in Utah. Salt Lake City’s previous team, the Utah Royals, moved to Kansas City in 2020 and became The Current. But MLS club Real Salt Lake retained the rights to the Royals name and to an NWSL team in the city, plus an option to purchase an NWSL expansion slot at a set price at a later date. Real Salt Lake owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith have indicated they intend to exercise that option, though the price is unclear. The 14th club is what many expect to reset the expansion fees moving forward, into the $40 million range, for the 10-year-old league.