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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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NWSL’s Team Values Are Perhaps the Clearest Sign of League’s Growth

  • The record-setting deal for the Wave signals just how far the league has come.
  • Revenue growth happening across numerous key business areas provides fuel for rising team sales.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig laid out one of his key performance metrics when he took the role on a permanent basis in 1998, telling team owners, “Look, guys, in the end you can judge me by asset values. Because in the end, that is really the sum total of everything we do.”

That same measure can now be applied to the NWSL and commissioner Jessica Berman (above) on the heels of a record-level franchise sale in San Diego that dramatically resets team values across the league.

The Wave, a third-year franchise, has been acquired by the Levine Leichtman family from billionaire Ron Burkle for $113 million. The two-stage agreement, which could later bring the team value to $120 million, accelerates what has already been a dramatic run-up in team prices in the last two years. Recent deals across the NWSL include:

  • New franchises, including Bay Area FC and a forthcoming team in Boston, that each carried $53 million expansion fees. 
  • Y. Michele Kang’s $35 million acquisition of the Washington Spirit in 2022. 
  • A $35.5 million deal last summer for the Chicago Red Stars led by Cubs and Sky co-owner Laura Ricketts that includes another $25 million to be invested in the club.  
  • A sale in January of the Portland Thorns for $63 million.

Broad-Based Growth

In keeping with Selig’s edict, the underlying reasoning for the NWSL franchise escalation is not hard to understand. In 2023, the NWSL had a groundbreaking season with $240 million in media rights deals, record attendance, and higher national TV streaming viewership, giving women’s team sports unprecedented exposure on broadcast, cable TV, and streaming platforms.

The Wave pact also ties into a broader and historic escalation in popularity and exposure happening across women’s pro sports in North America. 

“As longtime supporters of the women’s game, Arthur [Levine] and Lauren [Leichtman] know well the impact that our league can have in our society, and as savvy investors, understand the opportunities in front of us to continue to grow our league and club businesses,” Berman said.

Meanwhile, the Utah Royals are also returning to the NWSL this season after folding in 2020. The club, as well as MLS counterpart Real Salt Lake, is now controlled by Jazz owner Ryan Smith and David Blitzer, the co-managing partner of the 76ers and Devils. Because of the state of the Royals, Smith and Blitzer are believed to have paid only $2 million to revive the club.

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