Soccer

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

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What would possibly go down as Aly Wagner’s biggest help occurred lengthy after she retired as an expert soccer participant.

It got here in the summertime of 2022, when she pitched Charlotte Waxman, the spouse of Sixth Street CEO Alan Waxman, on the virtues of a NWSL enlargement team within the San Francisco Bay Area. At the time, Wagner hoped the couple would come on board as particular person buyers.

“Charlotte comes out of the investment side, she comes out of business, so she asked all the right questions, probably screening me for Alan,” Wagner advised ESPN.

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Wagner’s gross sales pitch was so persuasive that Charlotte advised Alan concerning the concept.

“My wife was like, ‘You’ve got to meet Aly,” Alan Waxman advised ESPN. “The more we dug in on the different things that we look for in what makes a good investment, every place we dug it was coming back almost like, this doesn’t make any sense. This seems like the most structurally undervalued sports league opportunity of anything we see in the world, not only in the sports ecosystem, but also just across everything.

“We see actually about 400 offers a month. We see plenty of stuff, not solely inside solely the sports activities ecosystem, throughout every part. It simply did not make sense. But that is what occurs throughout corporations and sectors once they’re an inflection level. We’ve seen this in different industries and that is form of what we noticed right here on the sample recognition.”

Now Wagner’s pitch has turned into reality with some considerable financial muscle behind it. Sixth Street is investing $125 million, which it touts as the largest institutional investment in women’s soccer to date. The investment consists of a $53 million expansion fee with the remainder to be spent on a training facility and the buildout of team infrastructure and staff. The team has not officially announced a home venue.

There’s some soccer pedigree in the investment group as well. Along with Wagner, three other former U.S. internationals with connections to Santa Clara University — Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton — have been dubbed the “Founding Four” and form part of the ownership group.

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

For Wagner, going after an investor with Waxman’s pedigree was borne out of the pain of seeing two previous women’s teams in the Bay Area — the San Jose CyberRays of the WUSA and the FC Gold Pride of the WPS — come and go. Back then, the pockets of ownership simply weren’t deep enough, and owning a team was seen as more of a social cause.

“Before it was form of a heartstring choice, an ethical choice,” Wagner said. “They weren’t essentially run like a enterprise. I imply, the intentions have been spot on. They needed to see ladies’s soccer right here within the Bay Area as a result of we do have such expertise. But it wasn’t checked out like a long-term funding, long-term undertaking. And so I believe that coupled with the concept that the four of us have personally got here out of the Bay Area, there is a large tradition of ladies’s soccer within the Bay Area and the long-term imaginative and prescient for us is to provide our personal expertise.”

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

“Streaming utterly modified the sport on every part,” he said. “It broke down all of the boundaries. That was an enormous battle, breaking down the partitions of accessibility.

“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. Streaming, literally, you can look on your iPhone, look on your iPad, stream your TV. Now it’s accessible to everyone. And that was a massive game changer.”

Wagner added that the expansion of social media additionally makes promoting the game simpler.

“No longer were there gatekeepers that determined where marking dollars flowed,” she advised ESPN. “We showed them the data and, and so for companies then, there was no argument there. They realized that that investment made sense and partnerships with women’s footballers makes a lot of sense.

Some NWSL teams, primarily Angel City FC, have brought in numerous celebrity owners. Waxman indicated that the Bay Area team won’t be going that route, and will be more strategic in terms of who they bring on board, pointing to the inclusion of Sandberg and Welts as examples.

“We do not want capital,” Waxman said. “If somebody can deliver assets that assist us obtain the mission, we’re open to that. We need companions that may deliver worth and assist us execute the imaginative and prescient that we’ve.”



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