NWSL announces return of Utah Royals in 2024 amid reported 3-team expansion

March 11, 2023;  Sandy, Utah, USA;  NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman addresses the media on the return of professional women's soccer club Utah Royals FC to Utah under Ryan Smith, owner of Real Salt Lake at America First Field.  Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
The Utah Royals are back after a four-season hiatus. (Jeffrey Swinger, USA TODAY Sports)

One of the new teams in the National Women’s Football League will be familiar to fans.

The league is bringing back the Utah Royals, a team that existed from 2018 to 2020, for the 2024 season, it was announced Saturday.

It was previously reported that the NWSL expansion would add teams in the Bay Area and Boston in addition to bringing back Utah with a reported $50 million expansion fee. Utah and the Bay Area are reportedly on track for 2024, with Boston getting its team later.

Utah’s owner group is led by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who also own MLS’s Real Salt Lake. Smith also owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz, and Blitzer has stakes in several teams, including the Premier League’s Crystal Palace, the New Jersey Devils, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Also in the ownership group are Philadelphia 76ers basketball president Daryl Morey and Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman. by ESPN. The group received their team at a significant discount compared to the other two expansion teams, paying between $2 million and $5 million reportedly.

The team will play its games at America First Credit Union Field in Real Salt Lake City and will be led by team president Michelle Hinchik, a former Harvard footballer who has worked as a legal advisor for MLS and RSL.

The first version: members of the royal family moved to Kansas City amid scandal

The return of the Royals comes three years after the team’s previous incarnation was sold amid accusations against team owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake, of racist language and a toxic workplace culture, including the use of slurs.

Former Royals manager Craig Harrington was also among the many coaches and executives mentioned in a report by the NWSL/NWSL Players Association in his case for verbal abuse and sexual harassment of Royals players.

The royals eventually went out of business and their assets were sold to a Kansas City group that included Brittany Mahomes, wife of Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. That team became the Kansas City Current, which went 10-6-6 last season to reach the NWSL Championship Game.

Although the Royals’ first appearance in Utah ended in scandal, the NWSL made sure to point out that fan support in the city was a major reason for its decision, stating that the team had the second-highest average attendance in its three seasons of existence.

When Blitzer and Smith acquired Real Salt Lake, that deal was reportedly an opportunity to acquire an NWSL expansion team, and as a result, Utah got a football team it should never have lost.


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