NWSL to grow to 16 teams by 2024 as club ownership opportunities excite new investors

May 11 – The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) commissioner Jessica Berman has said that the league is targeting 16 teams for the 2026 season.

“We do expect for the 2026 season to add two more teams,” Berman told the Washington Post.

“That process will begin later this calendar year, and through the process we ran in 2022 for this round of expansion, we have an incredible amount of interest from qualified investors who want to get in early.”

The NWSL is playing the 2023 season that kicked off in March with 12 teams. In 2022 the league added Angel City FC in Los Angeles (a runaway success story) as well as the San Diego Wave.

While no new teams have joined the league for the 2023 season, in 2024 the Utah Royals will rejoin the league, while an unnamed team in San Francisco will also launch – taking the league to 14 teams.

Berman said there’s still an “incredible amount of interest” from potential investors.

“We’re still really early in our process in terms of our growth and where we think this league is going to be in three-to-five-to-10 years,” Berman said. “A lot of investors are recognizing that and are excited to begin that process of mutual due diligence with us.”

Boston is one of the favourite cities to be granted a franchise.

The growth of women’s leagues worldwide has been rapid, though the biggest issue has been sustainability. In Europe the major men’s clubs and national federations have had to invest deeply into their women’s set-ups to establish the leagues and improve performance levels.

In the US the women’s teams don’t have that kind of support and have to rely pretty much exclusively on their own commercial partners and the pockets of their owners.

The addition of new teams in the NWSL will only increase its competitiveness which will ultimately translate through to US women’s national team. The US currently top the world ranking and are the current world champions, but the gap between them and the rest of the world has been rapidly closed by Europe’s big nations.

An expanded domestic league will only serve to reinforce the competitiveness of the US team on the international stage in the future.

While talk is about new franchises, the NWSL has already grown to the point where teams have established a value and are tradeable.

Currently the OL Reign, Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns are all for sale.

Investment bank Raine Group, who brokered the sale of Premier League Chelsea and are currently handling the Manchester United sale, have been appointed by OL Groupe’s for the sale process of OL Reign.

The Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns were put up for sale after their current owners dealt with the recent abuse scandal of NWSL players.

Reports are that there are more than 10 groups vying for the Red Stars while former Nike executive Melanie Strong has made public an interest in buying the Thorns and their Portland Timbers MLS affiliate.

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