The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), US soccer’s top-tier competition, has announced it has started the process of selecting its 16th expansion team, with a decision possible later this year.
Commissioner Jessica Berman confirmed league had begun its search for the new team, which will join the already confirmed Boston side that will begin play in 2026.
Speaking to media ahead of the NWSL draft in California, Berman said: “We have active due diligence ongoing as we speak with many different groups from many different cities, and we expect that process will take approximately six to nine months.”
The move comes after Berman confirmed the league will begin another round of expansion last September following the two teams already set to join the league for the upcoming 2024 season, which kicks off on March 16.
For the 2023 season, the 12-team league saw each side play a 22-game regular season, with the top six teams proceeding into the post-season playoffs to find the champion. This will increase to 14 teams with the addition of Utah Royals FC and Bay FC for the 2024 season.
The previous biennial expansion round saw Angel FC and San Diego Wave join the league in 2022.
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During the media briefing, Berman praised infrastructure investments within the league, including Kansas City Current opening the first women’s soccer-specific stadium this season and Portland Thorns’ new owners' plans to build a dedicated training facility for the club.
Berman said Bay FC and the new Boston franchise have also committed to building facilities for their clubs, adding: “We increased our salary cap by 40% to $2.75 million, and we really are seeing the investment flow not just into the infrastructure of the league and facilities and staffing, but also to the players, and we're really proud of that.”
The news comes after the NWSL secured lucrative, long-term domestic media rights agreements with broadcasters ESPN, CBS (the incumbent partner), Amazon, and Scripps through the 2027 season in deals brokered by the Endeavor-owned IMG and WME Sports agencies.
At the time, the league said the four-year contracts starting this year would “generate record-breaking distribution and revenue for the league while maximizing a mix of linear and digital streaming distribution.”
The networks will pay a combined $240 million over the four seasons – $60 million annually – with CBS, currently in its fourth year in partnership with the NWSL, retaining the rights to the league’s season finale.
Last week, the sale of Thorns to members of the Bhathal family, part of a group that owns NBA basketball’s Sacramento Kings, was finalized for a record $63 million.
A second NWSL team, Seattle Reign FC (formerly OL Reign) is still on the market but a sale is linked to the ownership of the Seattle Sounders, of men’s Major League Soccer.
The 2024 NWSL season begins on March 16 with the Challenge Cup between league champions Gotham and San Diego Wave, winner of the NWSL Shield for the best regular-season record.
The regular season will then start on March 16 and pause during the Paris Olympics in the middle of the year.