The new Bay Area team in the NWSL is backed by four former USWNT legends

Jeff CarlisleAmerican football reporter5 minutes to read

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What is arguably Aly Wagner’s greatest assist happened long after she retired as a professional soccer player.

It came about in the summer of 2022, when Charlotte Waxman, wife of Sixth Street CEO Alan Waxman, demonstrated the virtues of NWSL expansion team in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the time, Wagner hoped the couple would come in as individual investors.

“Charlotte came out on the investment side, got out of business, so I asked all the right questions, and she’s probably going to check me out for Alan,” Wagner told ESPN.

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So convincing were Wagner’s sales pitches that Charlotte told Alan about the idea.

“My wife was like, ‘You have to meet Ali,'” Alan Waxman told ESPN. “The deeper we dig into the different things we look for in what makes a good investment, almost every place we dug it comes back, it just doesn’t make sense. This seems to be the most structurally undervalued sports league opportunity of anything we’ve seen in the world, Not only in the sports ecosystem, but also in everything.

“We see literally about 400 deals a month. We see a lot of things, not just within the sports ecosystem, across everything. It just didn’t make sense. But that’s what happens across companies and sectors when it’s an inflection point. We’ve seen this in other industries and it’s kind of We’ve seen it here in pattern recognition.”

Now Wagner’s idea has turned into a reality with some significant financial power behind it. Sixth Street is investing $125 million, which it considers the largest institutional investment in women’s soccer to date. The investment consisted of an expansion fee of US$53 million, with the remainder being spent on a training facility and building infrastructure for the team and staff. The team has not officially announced a home venue.

There is some soccer pedigree in the investment group, too. Besides Wagner, three former US internationals with ties to Santa Clara University – Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Daniel Slaton – have been dubbed the “Founding Four” and form part of the ownership group.

Former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg will be on the board and invest with her husband, Tom Bernthal, as well as former Golden State Warriors president and COO, Rick Welts. Former San Francisco Giants Vice President of Communications Staci Slaughter will also serve on the board.

For Wagner, going after a Waxman-born investor stemmed from the pain of seeing two former Bay Area women’s teams — the San Jose Cyber ​​Rays of WUSA and FC Gold Pride of WPS — come and go. At the time, pockets of ownership were not deep enough, and owning a team was seen as a social cause.

Brandi Chastain, left, and Ali Wagner hit the field. Now they will help guide the NWSL expansion team in the Bay Area.Darren Yamashita – USA Today Sports

“Previously it was a very spirited decision, a moral one,” said Wagner. “It wasn’t necessarily run as a business. I mean, the intentions were spot on. They wanted to see women’s football here in the Bay Area because we have such talent. But it wasn’t seen as a long-term investment, a long-term project. And so I think it’s Besides the idea that four of us have personally come out of the Bay Area, there is an enormous culture of women’s football in the Bay Area and the long-term vision for us is to produce our own talent.”

For Waxman, however, there have been some long-term developments that have been more compelling. One of these was the rise of streaming services, noting that even 10 years ago women’s football matches were hard to come by. Not anymore.

“Broadcasting has completely changed the game in every way,” he said. “It broke down all the barriers. It was a tremendous struggle, breaking down the walls of accessibility.

“It’s easy for a boy growing up to run and find basketball. Football is easy to find. And baseball is easy to find. To find women’s football, it was hard. You can stream, literally, look on your iPhone, and look To the iPad, stream to your TV. Now it’s within everyone’s reach. And that was a massive game changer.”

Wagner added that the growth of social media makes the sport easier to sell.

“There are no longer gatekeepers dictating where brands’ dollars flow,” she told ESPN. “We showed them the data and so for companies at the time, there was no argument there. They knew this investment made sense and partnerships with female footballers made a lot of sense.

Some NWSL teams, notably Angel City FC, have brought in many celebrity owners. The Bay Area team would not go that route, Waxman noted, and would be more strategic in terms of who they would bring in, citing Sandberg and Welts as examples.

“We don’t need capital,” Waxman said. “If someone can bring in the resources that help us achieve the mission, we’re open to that. We want partners who can bring value and help us implement the vision that we have.”

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