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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.”