California NWSL teams lead the way with ownership announcements

Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
Big changes ahead for ownership groups for the San Diego Wave and Angel City as big money Bay FC makes its debut in NWSL action.

LOS ANGELES — The 2024 NWSL season officially kicked off this weekend with milestone after milestone. It began with the fifth edition of the Challenge Cup in which two-time World Cup winner Alex Morgan helped San Diego Wave win their first crown. It was followed by a bombastic opening match where Kansas City Current unveiled and showcased their new stadium, the first-ever in the league specifically built for women’s professional soccer, hosting the Portland Thorns in a 5-4 goal frenzy keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. In fact, the first match day of this season netted 21 goals across 4 matches, equaling a league high set in 2017.

Today will prove to be equally if not more memorable, as the Los Angeles-based Angel City host the USWNT legends-owned Bay FC, making their debut as the 14th NWSL club. Co-founded by four USWNT legends, Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton, and Leslie Osborne, the expansion side made history when Sixth Street Partners, who committed a record $125 million, became the first institutional investor to be a majority owner of a US sports franchise in 2023. Their investment also included a record $53 million league expansion fee, a near ten-fold increase to fees paid in 2020.

Following on the heels of an unprecedented year growth marked by record match attendance, higher national TV streaming viewership, and a $240 million in media rights deals, is a tall order, but all three California teams are leading the way into a new era for the league where the focus is on balancing sustainability with the ever-increasing funds in the business of soccer in the United States, foreseeing the high stakes investment required to maintain the clubs’ health and popularity.

Just a day after the sale announcement of San Diego Wave FC in a 2-part $113 million deal, the 13th NWSL team, Angel City FC, their sister club and rival just a few hours north, was also reported to be searching for a new owner. The news, first broken by Sportico, revealed that the existing ownership board hired an independent investment back to seek out a stake that can include control of the board.

Angel City, the 11th member of the NWSL, made a splash in the headlines in 2020 when they first announced their venture, a cooperative majority female-ownership group with several high-profile celebrities and athletes as investors including Serena Williams, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, America Ferrera and Julie Uhrman. Kara Nortman, Natalie Portman, and Julie Uhrman are the three co-founding partners. In total, the LA-based NWSL club has nearly 100 co-owners. Venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian (Serena Williams’ husband) is the majority investor and serves as Angel City’s primary board governor, however the structure of the organization does not permit him to control how his money is spent, and while the valuation of the club ranks highest at $180 million, the club has not made a profit in the two years since they began playing. Their revenue of $31 million is currently highest in the league, nearly twice the revenue generated by the next-highest in the league, San Diego Wave, yet they have underperformed with negative profit margins.

Both San Diego Wave and Angel City paid the $2 million expansion fee in 2020, and both began their ventures into uncharted territory of NWSL in California in 2021 after a 10-year vacuum in women’s professional soccer in the Golden State. There’s even more at stake for Angel City, who, unlike San Diego, have not yet played a stellar inaugural year on the pitch. While, the Wave now have a Challenge Cup title and an NWSL Shield title for their remarkable run in their first year, Angel City placed 8th in 2022 and lost in the quarterfinals stage of the playoffs in 2023.

For a team with such high clout and visibility, the signal to change structure and leadership at the highest levels is a much-needed reaction to the rapidly changing landscape of women’s soccer in this nation. Rather than being an overcorrection, San Diego and Los Angeles are taking the necessary synergistic steps to ensure longevity and health for their investment in the growth of the beautiful game. Given the likely success of their shiny new sister team to the north and their guaranteed numbers and support, it’s the right move at the right time.

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