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What the record-breaking expansion fee means for new NWSL media rights

Investment firm Sixth Street leads an ownership group ready to spend $125M on a new NWSL Bay Area franchise.

2023 NWSL Draft Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

More money, more problems...or more money, more prosperity?

The answer to that question depends on who you are asking. For the NWSL and women's soccer, the $125 million investment to start a new franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area seems to be the best thing for the 11-year-old league.

The investment firm Sixth Street has invested $1 billion in sports over the last two years. Started in 2009 by co-founder Alan Waxman, Sixth Street has a stake in the San Antonio Spurs and football giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The $125 million investment includes the $53 million expansion fee to the NWSL, another $30-50 million for building a new training facility, and the remaining for team operations.

U.S. Women's National Team alumni Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osbourne, and Danielle Slaton are the faces of the Bay Area ownership group and will be on a board that runs the team, which will start play in 2024. Wagner will serve as co-chairman of the club's board alongside Waxman. Waxman will also serve on the NWSL board of governors.

"We want to thank Commissioner Berman and the NWSL Board for their endorsement and their partnership throughout this process," said Waxman, Co-Chair of the Club and Co-Founder and CEO of Sixth Street.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with this legendary group, who are lifelong role models to a generation of women, and we look forward to working with them to build a championship franchise on and off the field. We believe that many years from now, we will look back at today as a landmark moment in Bay Area sports history and a turning point for large-scale investment in women's sports."

This significant investment indicates that women's sports are not just an alternative to men's. The NWSL announced three clubs would be added, bringing the total of franchises to 14. In 2021, the Utah Royals relocated to Kansas City, which only cost the ownership group $5 million.

Two years later, two new franchises will pay a franchise fee of at least $50 million.

"The number of bids and the increase in the league's expansion fees are indicative of both the demand that exists for women's soccer in the professional sports landscape and the validated growth trajectory of our league," said NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman. Berman joined the league in 2022, and her first primary job was to clean up the mess from the abuse allegations that gave the league a black eye.

These significant investments into women's soccer are the ripple effect of the 2019 Women's World Cup, which brought in 1.1 billion viewers. In addition, the NWSL Final had 915,000 viewers (just 1.1 million less than the MLS Final) and featured the newest star of U.S. Women's Soccer, Sophia Smith.

With a significant investment like this, the women's game has no choice but to continue to grow. Sixth Street and other ownership groups are banking on huge returns from media rights. CBS is the current holder of media rights to NWSL, worth $4.5 million over three years, signed in 2020.

The NWSL is in a great position to create a new asking price for the rights to show their league thanks to an upcoming Women's World Cup, which will feature the stars of the NWSL. Tech giant, Apple, is rumored to be interested in the exclusive rights to stream the NWSL, adding to their Apple TV sports library.

The tech conglomerate spent $2.5 billion for the exclusive rights to the MLS and $85 million per season to showcase MLB games.

The NWSL may not reach billion-dollar status for the rights to broadcast their games, but partnering with Sixth Street Investment firm can help bring in big spenders for a record-breaking media rights deal in women's sports.