NWSL’s new Bay Area team powered by four ex-USWNT legends

NWSL’s new Bay Area team powered by four ex-USWNT legends

Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent 8:00am ET5 Minutes Read

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What could be considered Aly Wagner’s greatest assist happened long after she retired as a professional soccer player.

It came in the summer of 2022, when she pitched Charlotte Waxman, wife of Sixth Street CEO Alan Waxman, to the virtues of an NWSL expansion team in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the time, Wagner hoped the couple would come on board as individual investors.

“Charlotte comes from the investment side, she comes from the business side, so she asked all the right questions, maybe seeing me about Alan,” Wagner told ESPN.

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Wagner’s selling point was so compelling that Charlotte pitched the idea to Alan.

“My wife said, ‘You should meet Aly,'” Alan Waxman told ESPN. “The more we dug into the different things we look for in what makes a good investment, every place we dug came back pretty much like it makes sense. This seems like the most underrated opportunity in the sports league. of everything we see in the world, not just in the sports ecosystem, but in everything.

“We literally see about 400 deals a month. We see a lot of things, not just within the sports ecosystem, in everything. It just didn’t make sense. But that’s what happens across companies and sectors when they’re a We’ve seen that in other industries and that’s something we saw here in pattern recognition.”

Now Wagner’s pitch is back to reality with some considerable financial muscle behind it. Sixth Street is investing $125 million in what it calls the largest institutional investment in women’s soccer to date. The investment consists of an expansion fee of $53 million, while the remainder will be spent on a training facility and building the team’s infrastructure and staff. The team has not officially announced a home location.

There are also some football origins in the investment group. Along with Wagner, three other former U.S. internationals with ties to Santa Clara University — Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton — have been dubbed the “Founding Four” and are part of the ownership group.

Former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg will be on board and will invest with her husband, Tom Bernthal, as will former Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts. Former San Francisco Giants vice president of communications Staci Slaughter will also be on board.

For Wagner, pursuing an investor with Waxman’s background was tempered by the pain of watching two previous Bay Area women’s teams — the WUSA’s San Jose CyberRays and the WPS’s FC Gold Pride — come and go. Back then, ownership pockets just weren’t deep enough, and owning a team was seen more as a social cause.

Brandi Chastain, left, and Aly Wagner have found success on the field. Now they will help lead the NWSL’s expansion team to the Bay Area. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

“It used to be kind of a strong decision, a moral decision,” Wagner said. “They weren’t necessarily run as a business. I mean, the goals were right. They wanted to see women’s soccer here in the Bay Area because we have such talent. But it didn’t feel like a long-term. investment, long-term project. And so I think along with the idea that the four of us personally came out of the Bay Area, there’s a massive culture of women’s soccer in the Bay Area and the long-term vision for us is to produce our own talent.”

But for Waxman there were some long-term developments that were even more compelling. One of them was the advent of streaming services, noting that even 10 years ago it was difficult to access women’s football games. Not any more.

Broadcasting completely changed the game on everything,” he said. “She broke down all the barriers. It was a massive struggle, tearing down the walls of access.

“It’s easy for a boy growing up to turn on and find basketball. It’s easy to find football. It’s easy to find baseball. To find women’s soccer, it was hard. The stream, literally, you can watch on Your iPhone, watch on your iPad, stream to your TV. Now it’s accessible to everyone. And that was a massive game changer.”

Wagner added that the rise of social media also makes it easier to sell sports.

“There were no more gatekeepers determining where the dollar mark came from,” she told ESPN. “We showed them the data and so for the companies then there was no argument. They realized that that investment made sense and partnering with female soccer players makes a lot of sense.

Some NWSL teams, most notably Angel City FC, have brought in multiple celebrity owners. Waxman indicated that the Bay Area team will not go that route and will be more strategic about who it brings on board, pointing to the inclusion of Sandberg and Welts as examples.

“We don’t need capital,” Waxman said. “If anyone can bring resources that help us achieve the mission, we’re open to that. We want partners who can bring value and help us execute the vision we have.”

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