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Sunday, March 3, 2024

To the List of NWSL Firsts This Offseason Add: A Record Transfer Fee

  • The Portland Thorns will pay $320,000 to acquire Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming.
  • Clubs are utilizing the new money coming from record media rights deals.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

A transfer fee of $320,000 is not typically an eye-popping sum for a soccer club acquiring a new player. But that amount is the new record for an NWSL team, according to multiple reports, with the Portland Thorns in the process of buying midfielder Jessie Fleming from Chelsea, currently the top team in the U.K.’s Women’s Super League. Fleming also stars for the Canadian national team, which she helped lead to a gold medal during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. 

Earlier this month, the Thorns were sold to members of the Bhathal family for $63 million, representing the largest franchise purchase price in NWSL history. The Bhathals head up venture firm RAJ Capital, which also has a minority ownership stake in the Sacramento Kings. Portland finished second out of 12 teams in the NWSL’s 2023 regular season, before losing in the playoff semifinals. Now, the club’s new ownership isn’t wasting any time spending its resources to keep competing.

Just Getting Started?

The financial strategy of paying for top talent outside of the U.S. being used by the Thorns is likely the next evolution for NWSL clubs, as they strive for top-tier global status while building upon the league’s growth.

In the wake of the NWSL’s new $240 million media rights deals with ESPN, CBS, Amazon, and Scripps Sports, this offseason has resulted in record contracts for multiple NWSL players. The Chicago Red Stars gave Mallory Swanson a four-year, $2 million deal and the Houston Dash will pay forward María Sánchez $1.5 million over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the NWSL will play a record 26 matches per club this season, with more TV slots to fill and two incoming expansion franchises in Boston and the Bay area.

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