NWSL kicks off new professional women’s soccer team in San Francisco

Nina Howard

On April 4, The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced the addition of a  14th team to the league, to be based in San Francisco. Following recent league expansion with the return of the Utah Royals, these two new teams will begin playing in March 2024. Although details about the San Francisco team are yet to be released, they are still sparking much conversation locally and nationally. 

Lo’eau LaBonta, former midfielder on the Utah Royals, kicking the ball in previous season, predating the team’s announced revival. (Photo courtesy of The Salt Lake Tribune)

Attempts to make a professional women’s team in San Francisco have failed in the past, with teams such as the FC Gold Pride not receiving enough funding. This new team, however, will be supported by a $125 million investment from Sixth Street Investment Firm, making history as the largest investment ever made in professional women’s soccer.

 This projected success is also a result of the involvement of four former professional soccer players: Brandi Chastain, Danielle Slaton, Leslie Osborne and Aly Wagner. Nicknamed the “Founding Football Four,” these women are responsible for acquiring the funding from Sixth Street and launching the effort to bring NWSL to The Bay Area. With their expertise, this team can focus on becoming more “player-centric”. 

Staci Slaughter, Chief Adviser on the NWSL To The Bay Board, began work on this project six months ago after serving 25 years as the Chief Communications Officer for the SF Giants. 

 “We’re looking at this as a real business investment. Women’s sports have been traditionally undervalued, meaning that if you can drive ticket sales and drive [the] value of a team, you can make significant money,” Slaughter said.

The expansion of this league reflects the greater trend toward women’s sports, especially women’s soccer, in the United States. The legitimacy of women’s sports is being confirmed as more businesses are investing and more players are given opportunities to play professionally. 

“I think there’s an inflection point in women’s sports right now…the [NWSL teams] in Southern California are selling out their stadiums. They’re doing all these big sponsorship deals… people are finally taking notice that women’s sports [are] just as exciting [as men’s], and not just when the World Cup or the Olympics roll around.” Slaughter said. 

Slaughter explained that the Bay Area is the ideal place to form a women’s soccer team because of its raw talent, immense wealth and significant sports following of 9 million people. San Francisco is the world’s sixth-largest sports market and the birthplace of famous players like Alex Morgan and other national team members, making this area a “hotbed” for women’s sports.

  Joan Ryan, one of the first female sports columnists in the United States, has been a sports journalist in San Francisco for 25 years and is the author of 5 award-winning books. 

Painted fingernails pointing to the NWSL soccer ball, advertising women in sports. (Photo courtesy of NWSL Instagram)

The most efficient path to life success for women and girls [is] really playing sports. All the research shows that the CEOs and the C-suite leaders in all different kinds of industries, [that] 96% of them had played sports. And so it’s really important that we have these leagues so girls can look at that and say, ‘That’s me. That’s what I wanna be’,” Ryan said. 

This team serves as an inspiration for many young girls who dream of playing soccer in the future. Paige Barta, the girls’ varsity goalie, has been playing soccer since she was five years old, always drawn to its competitive nature. 

 “I think bringing [a team] to the Bay Area and having more local teams that you can support rather than looking at it from a distance is definitely gonna make it more accessible, and also something more talked about in [our] local area,” Barta said. 

The NWSL is looking to expand by adding even more teams over the next few years. Drafting for the SF team will start this November, with games kicking off shortly after in March.  

They’ve got the dream team of women’s soccer players who were leading the charge. And they have so much respect and have such great passion and energy that I’m betting on them. Totally betting on that,” Ryan said.