The NWSL is adding four teams in the next three seasons. Yet while the expansion may seem rapid, it’s actually a measured pace, according to commissioner Jessica Berman.
Speaking on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast, Berman talked about the plans for expansion, which include new teams in Utah and the San Francisco Bay Area in 2024 and in Boston and one additional city in 2026. That comes on top of the San Diego Wave and Angel City FC, which joined the NWSL in 2022.
The 12-team league is sensitive to concerns about expanding too quickly, and that is the reason why just four teams are slated for the next few seasons, Berman said.
“I think one of the reasons we’re only expanding by two teams in 2024, and two teams in 2026, is because of that concern,” she said. “Like, if we didn’t have that concern, we would just do it now.”
Berman also revealed that the league recently had a meeting about expansion with “preliminary interests.” So even though the league isn’t currently in an expansion process beyond 2026, they’re still “very actively circling the hoop.”
“We could expand easily for 2024, not to 14 teams, but easily to 20,” she said. “Teams if we felt like the business could absorb it, if we thought it was strategic, if we felt like there was the right player pool to support it most importantly, because we have to make sure the quality of the game stays at the top. But we’re not doing that. There’s a reason we’re not doing that. And it’s because of the concerns of growing too quickly.”
One trend alongside the league’s expansion has been an increase in valuation of existing teams, and therefore in the buy-in price for expansion teams. A new broadcast deal could bring those valuations even higher, while Angel City FC is reportedly the highest-valued women’s club in sports.
“Everyone who’s investing, even teams that are not experiencing the incredible growth that Angel City is, is demonstrating … that $53 million is what they should pay for an NWSL team,” Berman said. “The rest of our owners, especially the ones who have been in it, have been at it for a while — they didn’t come to lose. They now see a world that is materially different in upside than what they thought was possible.”
And now, she says, the job is to ensure that both existing teams and those entering the league are competing not just on the field but off it. Currently the league is working on creating a department to help share best business practices around the league.
“There’s always, in every league, a top third and a middle third and a bottom third. That just exists in every league,” she said. “It’s our job to keep the top third raising the bar and bring up the bottom third, in all of the key areas from a business and player experience perspective. They want to compete, they just need a path to get there.
“We are uniquely positioned to facilitate that sharing. Our teams don’t compete in business — they compete on the pitch, but they don’t compete in business. So, we should be embracing the opportunity to make sure all of our clubs, like it is the true rising tide, lifts all boats. That is what we are doing.”