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NWSL mulls expansion possibilities as MLS owners show interest

(Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Expansion is back on the agenda for the NWSL in 2022, with new commissioner Jessica Berman laying out a new plan for the league’s growth.

Interest from potential ownership groups is high, as teams like Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave impress in their NWSL debuts.

“We’re seeing numbers being thrown around from $35 million to over $100 million. It will be interesting to see what the market will bear,” Berman said of team valuations on a May 6 conference call with the media. “We’ll only know the answer to that question once we actually put forward a proper process.”

According to reporting from Grant Wahl, there is significant interest from five MLS ownership groups, as well as several independent groups.

MLS groups from Atlanta, Austin, Cincinnati, Salt Lake and Toronto and independent groups from Columbus and the Bay Area are all in the conversation, per Wahl.

Salt Lake City has one of the strongest bids, with David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, new owners of Real Salt Lake, possibly looking to bring the Royals back to Utah.

Atlanta, according to The Athletic, is also a top candidate for NWSL expansion, with a team spokesperson telling the publication in March, “We continue to evaluate bringing an NWSL franchise to Atlanta. As part of this process, we’ve had several productive conversations with the league; however, we are not in a position to provide an update, nor a timetable, at this time.”

Nashville and Phoenix are also in the mix as potential NWSL markets, with ownership groups expressing varying levels of interest, per The Athletic.

“Once we go to market and really begin to see the interest level and see what the opportunities are, we can evaluate a short, medium, long-term plan. But I don’t think the league needs to make any foregone conclusions about how many (teams) we will have and by when. We’ll take it on a case-by-case basis,” Berman told media in May.

While 2023 is out of the question, the heightened interest and increase in team valuations could very well mean more clubs come 2024.