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How the Bay Area became NWSL team No. 14 for a record fee, and why it’s a proof of concept for the league

• California Bay Area team will begin play in 2024 alongside resurrected Utah Royals
• Record $53 million expansion fee paid to join the league
• Four former players backed by global firm Sixth Street; plan is to build world-class training facility

One of the first phone calls that Jessica Berman received when she started her role as commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022 was from Aly Wagner, the former Olympic gold medalist-turned broadcaster who was part of a group leading an effort to bring an NWSL expansion team to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wagner, as Berman recalls, was ready to get the Bay Area group on board and into the league. “Congratulations, and by the way, we’re ready to go,” is Berman’s recollection of Wagner’s forward introduction. The Bay Area was the best and most sensible expansion candidate, Wagner told Berman.

The new commissioner’s response was simple: “And if you are, then you’ll get the team.”

On Tuesday, a year later, the NWSL announced that Bay Area group as the league’s 14th franchise. The team will begin play in 2024, joining the Utah Royals in their return to the league.

The result was what most probably expected a year ago, but the process was hardly straightforward. What started as a modest level of national interest and the expectation for a $10 million expansion fee quickly became a bidding war among several dozen prospective ownership groups in markets across the United States as the sport grows. Over 60 groups signed nondisclosure agreements. The process yielded a final expansion fee of $53 million, sources told The Equalizer, and it leaves the Bay Area with less than a year to get on the field for a game.

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