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NWSL expansion: Utah Royals return to be announced in March

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The NWSL will make the long-anticipated return of the Utah Royals official with an announcement in March, The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported Monday.

Two teams are set to join the league for the 2024 season, as the Wall Street Journal reported in January: The reincarnation of the Utah franchise, which folded in 2020, and a new franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The NWSL started with eight teams in 2013 and reached 12 teams in 2022. With these new additions, league leaders aim to keep that momentum rolling. Here’s what you need to know.

What are the NWSL’s expansion plans?

The NWSL plans to add two teams for the 2024 season, commissioner Jessica Berman has confirmed.

And expansion won’t end there. The NWSL also will add a Boston franchise at a later date, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. If the league wants to keep growing beyond Boston, it likely would have options, as “over 30 investment groups” expressed interest in expansion franchises as of June 2022, Berman told ESPN.

Where will the teams be located?

Utah entered the expansion bid process as a shoo-in to land a team, which the latest reports have only confirmed. The Salt Lake City area was home to the NWSL’s Royals from 2018 to 2020, when the club folded. But the league left in place a legal option that would allow incoming owners of MLS club Real Salt Lake to create a new NWSL club in Utah, per ESPN — and new owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith are on board.

Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird agreed to a fixed reactivation fee, reported to be between $2 million and $5 million. So the Utah franchise would come in at a much lower price than the San Francisco and Boston expansion franchises, which are set to pay around $50 million each.

The Bay Area bid includes former U.S. women’s national team stars Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton as backers. And while San Francisco has not previously had an NWSL team, the league’s first forays into California have proved wildly successful.

The 2022 season featured two new teams, both in California: Angel City FC, which averaged more than 19,000 fans per game in its inaugural season, and San Diego Wave FC, which reached the playoff semifinals (and set the postseason attendance record to boot).

Boston, like Utah, will be making its return to the NWSL fold. One of the NWSL’s original teams, the Boston Breakers, called the city home for five years before folding in 2018.

When will the league announce its choices?

Even as reports swirl, the NWSL has not set a date to announce its expansion franchises. But with the Royals’ announcement expected in mid-March — perhaps around Real Salt Lake’s home opener on March 11? — the San Francisco announcement likely would not be far behind.