The deal

North America’s National Women’s Soccer League has awarded an expansion team to Boston, Massachusetts, with the new franchise set to begin play in 2026.

The club will be led by Boston Unity Soccer Partners (BUSP), an ownership group fronted by local businesswomen that comprises Jennifer Epstein, founder of seed-round investor Juno Equity and minority owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics.

Epstein will serve as the controlling partner of BUSP, while other managing partners include Flybridge Capital’s Anna Palmer, angel investor Stephanie Connaughton, and Ami Kuan Danoff, co-founder of the Women’s Foundation of Boston.

BUSP will pay an expansion fee of $53 million, a similar amount San Francisco’s Bay Area FC have paid to join the league in 2024. The group said it will invest the same amount to renovate White Stadium in Franklin Park as the franchise’s home, develop a separate training center, and support operating costs.

The NWSL said 95% of the invested capital into the franchise comes from women and 40% from investors of color.

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Investors include Celtics’ president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, his wife Tracy Stevens, and former US women’s national team player Kristine Lilly.

Why it matters

The NWSL is growing in popularity on the back of a record-breaking Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. With three weeks left in the season, attendance at games has surpassed 1 million, a league record, and with the competition's media rights deal set to expire, there are high hopes for a new record-breaking contract that reflects the league’s expansion and popularity.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis at GlobalData Sport, comments: “The expansion of the NWSL with a new franchise in Boston again highlights the growth in popularity in terms of women’s sport in general, while also cementing the NWSL as one of the most dynamic female-focused sports leagues in the world.

“The NWSL has led the way in popularizing soccer in the US, building on the success of the US Women’s team which is the most successful national team in women’s soccer. While the US fell short and below expectations at the 2023 World Cup, the women’s team has historically been far more successful than the men’s side, which has led to the conflict with US Soccer regarding pay and conditions for the USWNT.

“As the NWSL continues to expand, with the Boston franchise following the success of Angel City FC in particular, the US is very much seeing the benefits of focused development of soccer in the country as it gears it to jointly host the 2026 men's World Cup.

“The rise in popularity of the men’s MLS, the continuing success of the NWSL, and the opportunity to host the most prestigious event in soccer in the form of the World Cup means soccer has significant momentum in the US, looking to establish itself as a significant sport.

“While USA 94 got the bandwagon rolling in terms of soccer popularity in the US, the investment of US owners and organizations into European soccer and the creation of multi-club entities means that the US now has the knowledge and infrastructure to adequately capitalize on the next World Cup to continue the domestic growth of the two soccer leagues. The opportunities for commercialization for soccer in the US have never been greater.”

The details

The 12-team league currently sees each side play a 22-game regular season, with the top six teams proceeding into the post-season playoffs. This will increase to 14 teams with the addition of Utah Royals FC and Bay FC for the 2024 season.

The new Boston club will be the 15th franchise to enter the league and will be joined by another yet-to-announced franchise in 2026.

In a statement, Epstein said: “Boston is the greatest sports city in the world, and we are thrilled to bring the NWSL back to this passionate fan base.

“Our goal is to build a championship-caliber franchise that the city can be proud of, both on the pitch and in the community. We will be relentless and daring in our quest to add another chapter to the city's unrivaled sports legacy.”

The announcement marks Boston’s return to the NWSL, with the former Boston Breakers playing in the league between 2013 and 2017. However, after failing to find success or new owners, the club folded in January 2018.

Boston was first shortlisted alongside San Francisco, California, and Tampa Bay, Florida in 2022 as a potential location for the NWSL’s 14th expansion team to enter the league with Utah next year.

However, San Francisco’s Bay Area was eventually awarded the 14th franchise rights in April, backed by an investment group led by global investment firm Sixth Street. The previous biennial expansion round saw Angel FC and San Diego Wave join the league in 2022.

Further reading

Business of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) 2023

The Business of the FIFA Women’s World Cup

Successful 2023 Women’s World Cup will be remembered for issues still endured by women in sport

The Business of Major League Soccer 2023