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NWSL reportedly expanding to San Francisco, Boston and Utah; set record $50M franchise fee

The NWSL is planting roots in new cities at a record price.

Three new teams are expected to launch in Utah, the Bay Area and Boston — with the last two groups expected to pay a record $50 million in expansion fees, according to Jessica Toonkel and Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal.

The price of expansion reflects the growth of the league, where franchise fees for Los Angeles and San Diego were reportedly between $2 million-$5 million in 2020.

According to the WSJ, the Bay Area and Utah teams are set to kick off in 2024. Boston won’t launch until later. Their additions will bring the league to a total of 15 teams.

The Bay Area team will be funded by an investor group that includes a private-equity firm as well as former U.S. women’s national team players Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton.

The Boston group is supported by a women’s investment group that includes the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein. The team will bring women’s professional soccer back to Boston after the Breakers folded in 2018.

Utah also previously hosted a team. The Utah Royals were part of the NWSL in 2018-2020. The team transferred to Kansas City in December 2020 after players reported the team’s owner at the time for use of racist language. NWSL leaders agreed the Utah franchise could be revived at a later date for a set fee.

More wins for the NWSL

The news comes after the 2022 NWSL championship between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current in November boasted a 71% increase over 2021’s viewership. With 915,000 viewers, it was the most-viewed match in NWSL history.

The league is also seeing increased contracts for athletes. In February 2022, the Washington Spirit were able to sign Trinity Rodman to a four-year deal worth reportedly more than $1.1 million. She was 19 at the time and became the highest-paid NWSL player in league history.

More recently, Los Angeles’ Angel City FC made history at the league’s 2023 draft earlier this month by taking 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson No. 1 overall. The pick made Thompson the first high school player to be drafted at that position. Angel City FC spared no expense to land Thompson. It acquired the first overall pick from NJ/NY Gotham FC in a deal that saw it trade its natural No. 5 pick and a second-round pick in 2024, plus $200,000 in allocation money, to the Thorns for Yazmeen Ryan, who then went to Gotham along with $250,000.

All of this comes after the league signed its first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2022. The league’s financial growth will likely be reflected in the next one, which will be agreed upon after the 2026 season.

Oct 29, 2022; Washington, D.C., USA; The Portland Thorns FC celebrate winning the NWSL championship game against the Kansas City Current at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The NWSL continues to grow. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)