San Diego Wave to be sold for NWSL-record $113 million, per report

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 26: San Diego Wave flags during the NWSL match between the San Diego Wave FC and the Portland Thorns on May 26, 2023, at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The NWSL business is booming. (Photo by Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL's San Diego Wave took less than three years to become worth more than nine figures.

Billionaire owner Ron Burkle is selling the team for a league-record $113 million to Lauren Leichtman and Arthur Levine, according to Sportico. Leichtman and Levine are a married couple who founded the private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners in 1984.

The deal will reportedly see Leichtman and Levine pay $35 million immediately for 35% of the team, then $78 million for the remaining 65% after the 2024 season.

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The total purchase price clears the previous record for the most expensive team — $63 million for the Portland Thorns in January — by $50 million. It's certainly a good piece of business for Burkle, who reportedly paid a $2 million expansion fee to acquire the franchise in 2021.

That would be about a 5,550% return on investment for Burkle in three years.

The deal is the latest in a trend of rising NWSL team values, but the Wave have certainly performed like one of the league's most valuable franchises in their short existence. Led by USWNT stars Alex Morgan and Naomi Girma, the team has gone 21-10-13 across two seasons and won the NWSL Shield last year with the league's top record.

That success has led to fans turning up, though attendance has been strong since setting an NWSL record in their first home game. The Wave led the NWSL in attendance last season with an average of 20,718 spectators.

From Sportico:

“We are proud of the unprecedented success we have had as an expansion team and I am confident that [the Levine Leichtman] family’s investment will contribute to the growth of our team and the San Diego community,” Burkle told Sportico in a statement.

The rising NWSL team values have already been reflected in the league's expansion fees. Whereas the Wave and Angel City ownership groups only had to pay seven figures, the incoming Bay Area and Boston teams are paying fees north of $50 million.