Updated January 13th, 2024 at 16:05 IST

NWSL looking to add 16th team by 2026, commissioner says ahead of draft

The selection process for the 16th team in the National Women's Soccer League is under progress, according to Commissioner Jessica Berman, and an announcement might be made later this year.

National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman speaks during a news conference announcing the return of the Utah Royals | Image: AP
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National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman said the process is underway to select a 16th team for the league, with an announcement possible later this year.

The new team would begin play in 2026, joining another expansion team already awarded to an ownership group in Boston.

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“We have active due diligence ongoing as we speak with many different groups from many different cities, and we expect that process with take approximately six to nine months,” Berman said.

Berman spoke in the hours before the NWSL draft in Anaheim, California. A pair of expansion teams that begin play this season, Bay FC in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Utah Royals, have the first two picks.

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Berman touted investments in infrastructure around the league. The Kansas City Current are opening the first women’s soccer-specific stadium this season. The new owners of the Portland Thorns have plans to build a dedicated training facility for the club.

Bay FC and Boston have also committed to building facilities, she said.

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“We increased our salary cap by 40% to $2.75 million, and we really are seeing the investment flow not just into the infrastructure of the league and facilities and staffing, but also to the players, and we’re really proud of that,” Berman said.

Free agency is new to the NWSL this year and there have already been major moves. The league’s reigning champion, FC Gotham, has signed a star-studded collection of players: Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle — all of whom have U.S. national team experience.

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Also new is the league’s media rights deal for this season, signed in November. The $60 million agreement will expand viewing options with games broadcast or streamed on CBS, ESPN, Amazon Prime Video and Scripps Sports.

The league’s moves are aimed at increasing franchise value while also attracting and retaining talented players, Berman said.

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The sale of the Portland Thorns was finalized last week. Members of the Bhathal family, part of the group that owns the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, bought the team for an NWSL-record $63 million.

Another team, OL Reign, remains on the market, but a potential sale is in the works that includes ownership of the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. Both teams play at Seattle’s Lumen Field.

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This season begins with the Challenge Cup, a match between league champion Gotham and San Diego, which won the NWSL Shield for the best regular-season record, on March 15. The regular season will start the next day. Players will have time off during the Paris Olympics this summer.

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Published January 13th, 2024 at 10:17 IST