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Four Bay Area Women’s Football Legends Lead NWSL Expansion Efforts

An owner group comprised of players will begin evaluating local interest and potential community support for the Bay Area Women’s National Football League team over the next few months.

Eli Wagner, Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Daniel Slaton, all former Santa Clara players with extensive professional and international football experience, are leading the effort, which began two years ago. San Francisco investor David Aufhauser will serve as acting president in a bid to bring the NWSL team to the Bay Area. No one in the organization will disclose other investors or financial details. A source told The Chronicle that other Bay Area professional sports teams could also be involved in terms of social support.

The focus is on the popularity of women’s football in the Bay Area. Eight of the current 23 players on the US women’s team – 35 percent of the roster – have Bay Area ties. In the collegiate rankings, Santa Clara won the national title in 2020, and the Bay Area has had success in international women’s soccer competition in the past, such as the friendly (exhibition) match in 2019 at Levy Stadium drew 22,788 fans.

“Initially, it will definitely be more about the feel,” Wagner said. “And only energy. We have nothing to sell. We don’t have an expansion team yet. So it’s just about getting people moving towards our goal, which is to be an NWSL franchise in 2024 or 2025.”

Early metrics may have included supporter registrations on their newly launched websites and social numbers from hashtags, but the group emphasized that this had more to do with generating hype in the community.

“This is not the situation you are sitting in,” Chastain said. “There is a process to be part of the league and we need to make sure that we are ready to follow that process and prove ourselves in a way that is in line with the demands and needs of the league. we will support and represent it.”

Los Angeles’ new club Angel City has created a plan to attract high-profile investors with its own group of owners, which includes Natalie Portman. Chicago backed hockey Olympian Kendall Coyne-Schofield, while Carly Lloyd joined the Gotham City property. By the start of its first season this year (after announcing a 2020 launch), Angel City had 15,400 season ticket holders.

“When Angel City announced this, I immediately wrote to my good friends. Abby Wambach, Angela Huckles, Lauren Holiday and Julie Foody were like, “What the hell, why didn’t anyone tell me about this,” Osbourne said. “It’s amazing. It’s like a dream come true for me, as are the former players, our teammates, who now own this new, sexy women’s pro team. It seems to be exactly what I like. It was my dream.”

Osbourne said she was put in touch with a local businessman who was interested in starting a team but had no football connections yet. She called three other former players and asked if they were there.

“It became a reality the moment we had this conversation,” Osborne said. “I think we dreamed of people from business and technology teaming up with people from football, and our four backstories had a lot of experience in football. “

The Bay Area Group has used some of the recent expansion clubs as a benchmark while recognizing their own independent process. Two expansion teams have made successful debuts this season – San Diego and Angel City – after Louisville and Kansas City started playing in 2021, with a total of 12 teams currently in play.

“We don’t want to be a city of angels,” Wagner said. “We want to be Bay Area, but we really want to properly activate some of the community assets that have been so strong. And this is one part of the City of Angels that we would like to emulate. And then, for San Diego, I think their football strategy was great; this is the team that is currently at the top of the table.”

A March tweet said Osbourne said they raised $10 million with investments from technology companies in Silicon Valley. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment on the accuracy of this figure.

Washington Spirit sold for a record $35 million in February, but Kansas City Current’s expansion fee was $5 million in 2021, and when Sacramento made its bet in 2019 – and ended up in San Diego instead – it was $2 million. dollars. The Current is projected to spend around $70 million to open its own stadium in 2024.

No one in the Bay Area group went on to reveal the stadium situation, but indicated that they were “finalizing” the site selection. The Bay Area has options such as San Jose’s PayPal MLS Earthquakes Park, Santa Clara’s Levy Stadium – now home to the 2026 Men’s World Cup – and stadiums at Stanford, California Berkeley and San Jose State University.

This is one of many steps the group has begun working on in anticipation of the league working with groups applying for expansion in the coming months. But at the moment, most of their energy goes into building support for the community.

“We don’t really know the timeline,” Slayton said. “So we’re just trying to control what we can control and really start to inform our community and try to get as much support as possible and learn about our community.”

New Commissioner Jessica Berman took over in April, having served as Deputy Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League for more than two years. She said in May that the process of setting a timeline and strategy for new expansion clubs could begin in a few months. The earliest entry point to start playing in the expansion market is 2024.

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