Utah Royals to return as National Women’s Soccer League’s 13th team next season

The Royals are returning to Utah and the National Women’s Soccer League.

The NWSL and Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake announced the second iteration of the Utah Royals on Saturday. The Royals were part of the NWSL for three seasons from 2018 to 2020.

“When we acquired Real Salt Lake last year, we said it was a matter of when, not if, the NWSL would return to Utah. This has always been an integral part of our mission,” RSL co-owner David Blitzer said in a statement.

Michelle Hyncik, RSL’s general counsel, was named president of the Royals. America First Credit Union will be the team’s jersey sponsor.

When FC Kansas City, one of the NWSL’s founding clubs, folded in 2017, its players were transferred to a new team in Utah owned by Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake. The original Royals folded in 2020 after Hansen relinquished ownership of both clubs.

In an interview with a local radio station, Hansen had criticized MLS players for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and for protesting the August 2020 shooting by police of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In the fallout from Hansen’s remarks, he announced he would sell.

Chris and Angie Long, co-founders of Kansas-based Palmer Square Capital Management, acquired the Royals in late 2020 and moved the team back to Kansas City.

The sale of the original Royals stipulated that the buyers of Real Salt Lake would have rights to a future NWSL expansion franchise for a set fee. Early last year, MLS approved the sale of RSL to Blitzer, whose Global Football Holdings has stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils among other teams, and Ryan Smith’s Smith Entertainment Group, which also owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

“This is going to be an epic moment for the state,” Smith said Saturday. “And it’s going to be a moment where I personally believe that there has been a massive hole in our community as far as professional women’s sports and an opportunity for for my young girls — I’ve got three young girls — to be able to look up and say, ‘Hey, well, there’s another option here and it’s not just about sports. It’s about leadership.”‘

Blitzer is expected to represent the team at the NWSL’s Board of Governors.

Real Salt Lake announced the return of the Royals at a press conference ahead of the MLS team’s home opener against

The NWSL is expected to add another team for 2024, bringing the league to 14 teams. A future team in Boston is also planned.

Controversy tainted 1st tenure of franchise

The Royals’ short first tenure in the league was tainted by controversy. Coach Craig Harrington was put on paid administrative leave in September 2020 and later dismissed for allegedly making inappropriate comments.

The allegations were detailed in the NWSL’s report on a league-wide investigation into abuse and misconduct released in December. Harrington denied the reports.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in July that the league would consider a state’s stand on reproductive rights in awarding expansion franchises.

Utah has near-total abortion ban that was triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but it is currently blocked by a restraining order.

Berman said Saturday that the Royals share the NWSL’s values.

“It’s something that we look at not only for expansion teams, but for our incumbent teams. And we have various markets where women’s health and medical rights and resources are compromised and limited that it’s our responsibility at the league office to the extent permitted by law to provide tools and resources for our players to have their medical needs met,” Berman said.

“We have those safety nets and systems in place through the league office where players can have their medical needs addressed even if they have to leave the market and we are here to support them to the extent that’s necessary. And we know that the ownership group here is aligned to ensure that that’s the case.”

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