Jeff CarlisleAmerican football reporter5 minutes to read
The NWSL is heading to Utah with the announcement Saturday that the Utah Royals will begin play in 2024 as the league’s newest expansion team.
The team is owned by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who also own Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. Sources confirmed to ESPN a Wall Street Journal I mentioned that the expansion fee is between $2 million and $5 million. There was a previous incarnation of the Royals in the NWSL from 2018-20.
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For both of them, the acquisition of the royal family is the latest addition to their sporting portfolios. Blitzer owns stakes in Premier League club Crystal Palace, Augsburg FC of the Bundesliga, Portugal’s JD Estoril Praia and Waasland-Beveren of the Belgian First Division. The latter three teams fall under Blitzer’s Global Football Holdings umbrella, as do the RSL and Royals.
Blitzer is also a part owner of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. Smith is the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.
Daryl Morey, CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Group CEO of Kraft Analytics Jessica Gilman are also investors in the new ownership group.
Day-to-day operations will be managed by team president Michelle Hensick, a former Harvard collegiate soccer player who has served as general counsel with both the RSL and the MLS league office.
“It’s the sliding door moment where we have this window of opportunity, and for the sake of it [Blitzer and Smith] It was all about community, right? Hyncik said in an interview with ESPN.
“Ryan doesn’t look at this as an investment akin to private equity. They don’t look at this as a kind of money-maker. For them, it’s just about the community. The importance of women’s football here for young girls and young girls can’t be emphasized enough.” .
However, Blitzer and Smith acquired the team at a significant discount. Sources confirmed to ESPN that expansion teams in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area require an initial outlay of $50 million, at least 10 times what Blitzer and Smith pay.
Blitzer and Smith’s opportunity was the result of a forced sale to both the Royals and RSL due to a toxic workplace culture and racist remarks by former Dell owner Loy Hansen. This wasn’t the full extent of the abusive behavior either. The former Royals manager was Craig Harrington Cited in a joint NWSL/NWSL Players Association investigation However, he was verbally abusive and made sexual advances to some Royals players.
Hansen sold the royal family to Chris and Angie Long in late 2020, and then thereafter The team moved to Kansas City. Blitzer and Smith acquired RSL in early 2022, and included in that purchase an option to acquire the now-turned-reformed Royals NWSL expansion team.
Hyncik stated that in an effort to ensure that Hansen-era toxicity was not repeated, the Royals organization reached out to former players, including current Adidas marketing director Mandy Ladish and Sydney Miramontez, who now works for the NWSLPA.
The NWSLPA as a whole was also involved in advising on creating a healthy environment for players and staff. The team also underwent rebranding efforts, including a new logo, in order to make a more visible break with the past.
“We are one family, so making sure that all clubs within Utah football build on and support each other has always been a top priority,” Hyncik said. “And articulating those guiding principles of inclusion and community, making sure it’s a safe place is something we’re prioritizing on this launch.”
The team will play its games at America’s First Field, and will train at the similarly named Training Facility, located less than a mile from the stadium. Hyncik noted that the organization is still examining where the team’s investment in infrastructure will be best served.
Hyncik added that the organization has already started bringing in staff. Caterina Di Paco, in addition to her Ph.D. in Statistical Physics he did extensive work in football analytics, and was retained to head up the team’s recruiting effort. Chris Anderson, who fills a similar role at Global Football Holdings, will also help scout and recruit the team. Sarah Henderson, formerly of Amazon, has been named chief of staff.
Regarding the GM and director, Hyncik said the search to fill those positions is already underway, though finding a GM doesn’t have to come first.
“As for us, I think we’re looking for the right candidate and the right person to lead this organization,” she said. “If that’s the head coach, we hire that head coach. I would say it’s seamless, and while we’re aware of what a traditional type of track is, we want to hire the right person.”
Despite all the toxicity off the field, the Royals have found success at the gate. The 2019 season, the last before COVID, saw the team draw over 10,000 fans for a single game, which would have been third in the league last season. For this reason, some institutional knowledge will be retained, with the organization reaching out to the former team’s audiences.
“We just want to get back in the game, they never gave up and we’re grateful for them not giving up,” Hensick said. “In addition to some institutional knowledge, we know women’s football is going to be successful here because we have an engaged fan base.”
The Royals would also benefit from having a much longer runway. The first incarnation was just over four months from the time of its announcement to its first game. The current edition will have about a year, one that includes the World Cup, with plenty of watch parties providing another way to interact with existing and potential fans.
Hyncik said, “I couldn’t think of a better time to have the opportunity to bring a women’s soccer team back here when you see this new era of the league, the levels the owners and the new leadership are investing in the league.”
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