Soccer continues to grow in popularity throughout the United States, partly due to the significant success of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, or USWNT.
In April, the National Women’s Soccer League, or NWSL, announced an expansion team for the 2024 season: Bay FC, to be established in the San Francisco Bay Area. Headed by four former USWNT stars in Danielle Slaton, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Brandi Chastain, the seasoned athletes hope to utilize their experience to create a team with a timeless legacy and an authentic fan base.
The team hopes to replicate the success of the Los Angeles NWSL team, Angel City FC. At Bay FC’s public launch event in early June, Wagner said she considers Angel City the “trendsetters” of women’s soccer in the United States, admiring how the team established itself as a base for a strong community early on.
Other Angel City representatives were in attendance, too, such as Julie Urhman. Urhman, in an interview with Soccer Bay Area, expressed her confidence in Bay FC’s ability to build on Angel City’s success and improve the experience of women’s soccer for everyone involved.
Although Bay FC is the NWSL’s 14th club, the amount of money put towards its investment is unforeseen — the team agreed to a whopping $53 million expansion fee, compared to the $2 million fee for Angel City FC’s entry in 2020. Along with Bay FC, another expansion team based in Boston that is set to start play in a future season also paid an entry fee north of $50 million.
Part of the reasoning for the large investment is the rapid growth of the NWSL. The league is on track to add four expansion teams in as many years.
The increased funding for the NWSL mirrors the success of the sport in terms of viewership and attendance. Not only was average attendance already up 48% year-to-year by the halfway point of the 2022 season, total viewership on CBS has also risen 21% in that same time period.
Bay FC’s investors, managers and players alike are all pitching in to take advantage of the buzz around the sport in order to give their new club the best debut possible. Its newly hired CEO, Brady Stewart, former Levi Strauss & Co executive, told The Athletic that she plans to utilize her consumer and retail industry experience to focus on building a world-class organization in the office and on the field by working closely with the founders and investors.
Stewart said she wants to create an empowering, celebratory club culture that boosts its players’ careers and fosters equitable community programs that develop future female leaders of the sport. The plan is to first focus on local ties to Bay Area fans, then reach out globally to develop an international brand to create a lasting legacy in women’s soccer.
Former NWSL players are also becoming more involved than ever before, from media to leadership positions. The four co-founders’ playing experience spans all three professional soccer leagues in the United States, as well as 10 professional teams both at home and abroad. This will not only allow for a wider network of natural-drawn support but a genuine foundation to build the club off of.
The upcoming Women’s World Cup should also serve as a push to garner support for women’s soccer in the country, especially given the popularity of the USWNT, the defending champions. Although the club doesn’t start play until 2024, the training facility and stadium location is set to be announced in the coming months.