The NWSL has announced the Bhathal family, investors in NBA’s Sacramento Kings basketball team, has completed its acquisition of the beleaguered Portland Thorns franchise – more than a year after the team was put up for sale.
According to a person familiar with the deal, parent company RAJ Sports purchased the team for $63 million after the NWSL board of governors approved the sale last week.
Merritt Paulson, who also owns Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, put the team up for sale in late 2022 amid the fallout from the Yates Report into abuse and misconduct in the NWSL. Following the report, Paulson stepped down from his role as chief executive and later put the team up for sale.
The report released in October 2022 by former US deputy attorney general Sally Yates and the King & Spalding law firm, found abuse and misconduct have been “systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims” in the NWSL and that the league, its teams, and US Soccer failed to “respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse.”
Specific revelations were made regarding misconduct at the Thorns, as well as at Racing Louisville, the Chicago Red Stars, and Gotham FC.
The Bhathal family is led by siblings Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, co-founders in California-based firm Revitate, which deals in sports, real estate, and consumer brand investments, and are part of a group that bought the Sacramento Kings in 2013. The family holdings also include Lisa and Alex’s parents Raj and Marta Bhathal.
The family’s other sports investments include the Sacramento RiverCats AAA baseball club, Stockton Kings NBA-G League club, and Kings Guard NBA 2K esports team. Raj Bhathal currently serves as vice chairman and alternative governor of the Kings, while Alex serves on the Kings' executive board.
Lisa Bhathal Merage, meanwhile, will serve as the controlling owner of the franchise and will represent the team on the NWSL board of governors, while Alex Bhathal will serve as an alternate on the board.
In keeping with the wishes of Paulson, the family said they plan to keep the team in Portland, using Providence Park as their home ground, alongside the Timbers, as the team is under a lease through 2035. The team will also continue to train at the stadium until a new facility for the Thorns is built.
In a statement, Bhathal Merage said: “As fans ourselves, and as seasoned sports and real estate operators, we believe in the future of Portland and the NWSL, and in the tremendous opportunity that surrounds this iconic team.
“Our vision is to support new, widespread growth for the Thorns, the people of Portland, and for women’s sports as a whole.”
The Thorns, which have won the NWSL title three times – in 2013, 2017, and 2022 – are among the eight original teams that played in the inaugural 2013 season. The club has also qualified for the post-season nine times and won the NWSL Shield in 2016 and 2021.
The current 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 campaign.
The previous biennial expansion round saw Angel FC and San Diego Wave join the league in 2022.
NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said: “This is an exciting day for the NWSL and our continued growth as we welcome this exceptional new ownership group.
“Portland Thorns FC is an iconic club, supported by some of the best fans in sports, and I’m thrilled to welcome Lisa and Alex to the NWSL board.”