For the first time since 2010, the Bay Area will have a professional women’s soccer team.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has announced that it is awarding expansion rights for its 14th team to a Bay Area investment group, spearheaded by San Francisco-based global investment firm Sixth Street.
The new team, which has yet to unveil its name, logo or stadium, will begin play in 2024. The league began its current season on March 25, so assuming it remains on the same calendar, the team will be on the field in just under 12 months.
Sixth Street is no stranger to sports investments, having worked with the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and the San Antonio Spurs. The firm also has partnerships with the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys through its majority investment in Legends Hospitality, which began as a joint business venture between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Four former U.S. Women’s National Team Players who all played at Santa Clara University have partnered with Sixth Street as the club’s Founding Football Four. Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner will work alongside Sixth Street to set the team’s strategic direction.
“The Bay Area is where this all began,” said Chastain, who scored the winning penalty kick at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “We are as excited about what this club will achieve on the field of play as we are for what it will represent for generations of women athletes and professionals yet to come. We look forward to the Bay fans embracing our team and celebrating the competitive spirit and talent we will put onto the field to continue the strong Bay tradition of playing to win championships.”
LeanIn.Org founder and former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg is joining the club as a board member and strategic investor, and the club’s board will also include former Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts.
“In addition to the big names, people are actually looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and doing the work to make the team a real cultural touchstone in the region,” said David Stiepleman, Sixth Street’s co-founder and co-president. “It’s the biggest institutional investment in a women’s sports franchise, ever.”
Sixth Street plans to invest approximately $125 million in the club, including a $53 million expansion fee. The remaining $72 million includes the budget to build a state-of-the-art training facility.
The team has not chosen a location for said training facility, though the Founding Football Four’s Santa Clara ties imply the South Bay would be the most optimal location. When the quartet announced their intent to launch an NWSL expansion team, they participated in a photoshoot at PayPal Park, the home of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes.
Additionally, five Bay Area teams and three other Northern California sides are joining the USL W League, a “pre-professional” competition. The United Soccer League is also aiming to launch its own professional women’s league, the Super League, in 2024; it would effectively serve as the second division beneath the NWSL, similar to how the USL functions beneath Major League Soccer in men’s competitions.
Past Bay Area women’s soccer teams include the San Jose CyberRays, who played from 2001 to 2003 in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), and FC Gold Pride, who played at Castro Valley High School and CSU East Bay in 2009 and 2010 in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). The CyberRays won the inaugural WUSA Championship, and Gold Pride, led by Brazilian superstar Marta, won the WPS crown in 2010, but folded less than two months later.