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Report: Arnim Whisler takes first step toward sale of Red Stars

(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler has engaged a third-party advisor to facilitate the sale of the team, Sportico’s Emily Caron reported Thursday.

The Red Stars board of directors revealed the news Thursday in an email to shareholders, a source familiar with the team told Sportico. The message also outlined a process for finding possible investors but did not provide a timeline for the sale.

Both the Red Stars and the NWSL declined to comment to Sportico on the report.

The report of Whisler’s first step toward a sale of the team comes on the same day the team announced the departure of three players in free agency, which could be an ill omen of the state of the franchise.

The report also comes on the same day Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announced his intent to sell that team. Both owners have been with their teams and the NWSL from the start.

The Red Stars and the Thorns, though, were at the center of the Sally Yates report into abuse in the NWSL. The U.S. Soccer-commissioned report implicated both Whisler and Paulson in perpetuating a culture of abuse at their clubs and in the league.

Whisler repeatedly dismissed emotional and verbal abuse allegations against former Red Stars coach Rory Dames, per the report.

Dames offered to resign over the complaints in 2014, but Whisler declined to accept and no disciplinary measures were taken. Instead, he accused players “of wanting to shut down the league” and that they had an “axe to grind” with Dames.

“Whisler will tell you he knew nothing, which is a complete lie,” one player told U.S. Soccer during the investigation.

Whisler removed himself from club operations in the aftermath of the report’s release in October, and the board of directors voted to remove him as chairman. At the time, the team told the Chicago Sun-Times that the board also wanted “to help facilitate a sale of Arnim’s shares in a timely process.”

No official valuation of the Thorns or Red Stars has been released.

Franchise valuations in the league have skyrocketed over the last year. The Washington Spirit sold for $35 million in February, while Gotham FC was valued at $40 million in August. And an investor group plans to submit a formal offer for a majority stake in the Thorns at a $60 million valuation, ESPN reported Thursday.

Still, the Red Stars are in a markedly different situation than the Thorns. The Portland franchise led the league in attendance for seven straight seasons before 2022, when Angel City FC took the top spot. While the Thorns brought in more than 15,000 fans per game in 2022, the Red Stars sat eighth in the league with less than 6,000.