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NWSL commissioner: League expects 5-10 bids for two 2024 expansion teams

(Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL remains on track to add two expansion teams for 2024, with the league expecting up to 10 bids by the deadline of next Friday, commissioner Jessica Berman told the Wall Street Journal.

Berman anticipates five to 10 “meaningful bids,” and a decision will be announced in early 2023, she said.

While the Sally Yates report released earlier this month, which detailed systemic abuse in the NWSL, did bring questions from potential ownership groups, “the right groups are still very much engaged,” Berman said.

“We need people around the table who are willing to face down the challenges that women face in society, and are willing to do the hard work to solve those challenges in the NWSL,” she continued.

Still, Berman cautioned that calls for current owners — such as the Red Stars’ Arnim Whisler and the Thorns’ Merritt Paulson — to sell in the wake of the Yates report are premature, as the NWSL and NWSLPA remain in the midst of their own joint investigation into misconduct in the league.

Berman has said the Yates report makes the joint investigation even more important.

“In order for this league and the players to heal, and to rebuild the foundation, credibility and trust in the league, we have to make sure that the player association in particular is comfortable and confident in the process,” Berman told ESPN last week. “And for that reason, the joint investigation is absolutely paramount to our ability to move forward because they have a seat at the table in the sort of oversight, from a process perspective, in how the joint investigation has been carried out since last November.”

Even as the NWSL continues to deal with the fallout from the Yates report, the league also is capping a season in which it has seen significant growth, an attractive prospect for potential owners.

Ahead of Saturday’s championship match between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current, ticket revenue is up 125% from last season. And four of the largest crowds in NWSL playoff history have all happened this month, as the four postseason matches have averaged 22,756 fans.

Viewership is increasing as well. Games on CBS drew audiences ranging from 349,000 to 461,000, and streaming audiences on Paramount+ increased 29 percent from 2021.

Sponsorship revenue, too, is soaring, up nearly 90 percent from last season. Sponsors have not pulled their dollars from the league in the wake of the Yates report, Berman said, though some individual teams have seen sponsors redirect funds after the investigation.

Berman hopes the upcoming NWSL championship will focus more on the league’s triumphs than its hardships, she told the Wall Street Journal.

Players on the Current and the Thorns are looking “to focus on their trade, which is what all of us sort of strive for in our work,” Berman said. “And that’s what I hope the championship’s about.”

In Hartford, Simone Biles Returned to Form While Familiar Faces Vied for an Olympic Ticket

us gymnasts at core classic in hartford connecticut
Biles appears to be a lock for the Olympic team after last weekend's stunning performance. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

37-time world and Olympic medalist Simone Biles took first place at the Core Hydration Classic over the weekend, looking every bit the top contender she is. 

Earning an all-around score of 59.500, Biles also earned the highest scores in both the vault and floor exercises. She successfully incorporated the triple-twisting double salto into her floor routine for the first time since the qualifying round at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and picked up the highest score of the night — 15.600 — on vault with a Turchenko double pike.

"I was just happy to be back out there," Biles told NBCNews. "As long as we’re there cheering each other on and hoping for the best and having confidence in each other’s gymnastics, then it’s going to work."

Cementing her place as the nation’s second-best all-around gymnast was Shilese Jones, who finished the competition second in the all-around and won the uneven bars with a final score of 15.250.

Reigning all-around Olympic champion Suni Lee won the balance beam event. While she didn’t compete on uneven bars, Lee is aiming to compete in all four events at the 2024 Xfinity US Gymnastics Championships, which kicks off May 30th in Fort Worth.

"I think I’m starting to build a lot more confidence on beam," Lee told reporters after the meet. "I think it’s super important that we start feeling the nerves now because it’s only gonna get harder."

In a surprising turn, three-time Olympic gold medalist and 2012 all-around champion Gabby Douglas wound up withdrawing from the Core Hydration Classic after a rough start on the uneven bars. 

Douglas's first return to competition since the 2016 Olympics in Rio came three weeks ago at the American Classic in Katy, Texas. While she finished 10th in the all-around, she scored high enough in the vault and balance beam events to qualify for the US Championships.

"I have to give myself a little bit of grace," Douglas said after her American Classic appearance. "It ended rough for me in 2016, so I didn’t want to end on that note. I want to make sure I end on love and joy instead of hating something that I love."

While Biles's recent performance made her looked like a shoo-in for this summer's Olympics Games, four additional team members and two alternates are yet to be determined. 

Of course, there are some familiar faces still in the mix: Jade Carey, who was on Team USA in 2020, placed fourth overall at the Core Classic while medaling in individual events. Fellow 2020 Olympian Jordan Chiles placed third in the all-around. 

The US Olympic gymnastics roster will be determined at the Olympic Trials in late June, with athletes qualifying to compete at the Trials at the US Championships.

Chelsea, Arsenal Planning U.S. Tour of NWSL Friendlies

Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea battles with Lotte Wubben-Moy of Arsenal during the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal met, the Gunners walked away with the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Two of the WSL's biggest teams will cross the pond this summer, set to battle both each other and select NWSL teams in a series of Stateside club friendlies.

On Monday, the Blues confirmed their matchup against NJ/NY Gotham FC on August 19th, setting up a showdown between two league champions. It’ll be the first time that the English title-winners square off with the NWSL champs. 

Longtime Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger recently joined Gotham FC, setting up an extra layer of intrigue ahead of the August 19th championship scuffle. 

It’s not Chelsea’s first time playing in the States. Back in August 2022, the Blues traveled to Portland to compete in that year's Women’s International Champions Cup.

ESPN reported on Saturday that fellow WSL contender Arsenal is scheduled to face the Washington Spirit in the same timeframe. To cap off their joint US tour, Arsenal will then take on the UK table-toppers at Audi Field in Washington DC.

Making things even more interesting, two of the teams featured in the club friendly series will have recently undergone coaching changes. The preseason matches could be a first look for Sonia Bompastor at Chelsea, as reports indicate that the Lyon manager will take over for incoming UWSNT coach Emma Hayes next season. (Chelsea is waiting until the conclusion of Champions League to make a formal announcement.) In the US, the Washington Spirit will be welcoming Jonatan Giráldez from Barcelona once he finishes his tenure with the Spanish club next month. 

This Saturday, Bompastor's Olympique Lyonnais Féminin will go up against Giráldez's FC Barcelona Femení in the 2024 UEFA Women's Champions League Final.

Chelsea Wins WSL Title, Sends Emma Hayes Off to USWNT in Style

chelsea fc celebrating their wsl title win
The Blues lifted the WSL trophy once again after beating Man United on Saturday. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Emma Hayes is bowing out of the WSL in style, with Chelsea winning its fifth consecutive WSL title on Saturday.

The Blues needed a win over Manchester United on Saturday and they got one in true Chelsea fashion, beating United 6-0 to take the WSL crown. While the team tied Manchester City in points at 55 apiece, they beat City on goal differential, outscoring their northern opponents 53 to 46.

The title is the team's fifth in a row and seventh under Hayes, who now departs Chelsea after 12 years as manager.

"I can't say it's my most enjoyable but it's definitely been the toughest, without doubt, and for that reason probably the sweetest," she told Sky Sports. "I'm just so relieved it's over. The hardest thing to do is five in a row because people take their eye off the ball. My legacy is winning while building a team for the future."

Midfielder Erin Cuthbert called the title the "hardest one yet" for Chelsea, but also the sweetest. A month ago, the team was virtually all but out of the title race, with Hayes conceding as much. Chelsea went on to right the ship, however, putting on a stunning eight goal performance against Bristol City to insert themselves back into the conversation.

"In the moments that really matter, we find a way," Cuthbert told BBC Sport. "We've never really backed down from a challenge. The fans have been with us from the start, they've been incredible this year.

"There have been a few rough moments, this title has taken about 10 years off my life if I'm being deadly honest. The hardest one yet, the sweetest one yet, so I'm going to enjoy tonight."

Hayes will now leave to manage the USWNT, telling BBC Sport on Saturday that the team and its fans will always in be in her heart.

"I don't think I have the words really. I am full with a ton of different emotions," she said. "I am ready, I have given everything I've got. [I am] ready for my next adventure."

Las Vegas Investigated for Aces Sponsorship, Per Reports

aces logo on basketball court
It's not the first time the Aces have found themselves in hot water over CBA violations. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A first-of-its-kind sponsorship has hit the WNBA, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) announcing on Friday it would be supporting all 12 players of the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.

The deal grants each player $100,000 dollars in exchange for representing the city in 2024 and 2025.

"The offer's really simple: We want you to just play, we want you to keep repping Las Vegas, and if you do a three-peat, that'd be icing on the cake," LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill told the team in a video released Friday.

The news comes as WNBA salaries and team caps continue to be a point of contention in the league. With many players making less than $100,000 a year, outside sponsors have long helped bridge the financial gap for players. 

On Saturday, Aces coach Becky Hammon said that the local tourism bureau had reached out to all of the players individually via their agents, leaving the Aces organization out of the conversation entirely. The goal was to avoid breaking cap circumvention rules established by the league’s CBA.

"I'm going to put it to you real simple like this: Most of sponsorship people go after the top two people," Hammon said. "[A'ja Wilson] is taken care of — she's got plenty of stuff going on. [Kelsey Plum] has plenty of stuff. In this situation, from what I understand, is they wanted the whole team. So they went and called individuals, agents. I don't know the details. 

"I have nothing to do with it; the Aces don't have anything to do with it. It's just odd, but that's basically what happened."

Despite the apparent separation, the WNBA has launched an investigation into the legality of the sponsorship, according to multiple sources

While the sponsorship does not directly violate the league-wide salary cap because the LVCVA did not orchestrate the sponsorship with the club, other teams are likely to raise questions about its fairness and whether or not it violates the spirit of the cap rules. The deal could potentially upend the balance of what teams are able to offer players in the free agency market.

"We have 100 influencers we pay to represent Las Vegas," Hill told the Associated Press. "This isn’t any different then that. All of these ladies are completely eligible to have sponsorships. We are just asking them to represent Vegas."

It’s not the first time the league has investigated the Aces for cap circumnavigation. Just last year, the team faced consequences — Hammon was suspended for two games while the team lost its 2025 first-round draft pick — for crossing league rules regarding impermissible player benefits and workplace policies.

"We get [things] from our agents all the time; they wanted it to be a big moment because it's something that's never happened before," Aces star forward A'ja Wilson said about the LVCVA's offer. "I don't understand the investigation; I haven't dived into it yet. I just looked at my phone [after the game] and was like, 'Oh, wow, just another day in the life of the Aces.' We can't ever start just normal, it's always going to be something, and that's okay."

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