An all-female Boston-based investment group and Mayor Michelle Wu are joining forces to bring a women’s professional soccer team back to the city.
Boston is one of the finalists vying for an expansion franchise slated to join the National Women’s Soccer League for the 2024 season. A selection is expected by the end of next month.
The league expansion calls for two new teams, up from 12 to 14, with numerous reports having one of the additions already earmarked for Utah.
Boston’s bid is by no means assured to end in victory — Tampa and San Francisco are the other finalists, according to Sportico — but the city is banking on the power of women from the private and public realms to steer a team back. The NWSL’s Boston Breakers ceased operations in January 2018.
“Boston and Massachusetts are a place where women are in charge and thrive at all levels and in every community, so our city would obviously be an excellent home for a team of world class athletes representing the best women’s soccer league in the world,” said Mayor Wu on Monday. “Starting up a professional women’s soccer team is a challenging endeavor, but one that we are excited about. And this is a city where we are proud of our championship sports teams who are also partners in the community, and work hand in hand to create opportunities for young people and to strengthen the resources that we have available for many community building activities.”
Jennifer Epstein, founder of Juno Equity and the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein, is the investment group’s controlling owner, with Anna Palmer, a general partner at Flybridge Capital; Stephanie Connaughton, an angel investor, advisor and mentor with early stage start-ups; and Ami Kuan Danoff, co-founder and CFO of the Women’s Foundation of Boston, as managing partners.
Epstein said that in addition to local sports teams ownerships being interested in the bid, there is also a group of past and current Boston athletes involved in the effort.
“We bring together expertise in sports management, real estate, hospitality, marketing, investing philanthropy, and we came together around a shared passion and commitment to backing women-led enterprises,” said Epstein. “And our goal with this is to partner with the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the communities of Boston and use this as an opportunity to not only put forth powerful female athletes, managers and owners as role models, but as an ancillary and equally important opportunity to achieve a multitude of community rewards and benefits by using an existing city asset in which the team would play.”
Both Epstein and Wu emphasized no agreement has been reached on where the prospective team would play, but White Stadium in Franklin Park appears to be the leading candidate. Wu mentioned East Boston’s Memorial Stadium as well.
Wu said the city has not discussed using any funding or putting in resources to join the private equity bid, and has only begun to think about how to find the resources to restore and renovate White Stadium, which is under the jurisdiction of Boston Public Schools.
“We would only move forward with an arrangement that protected and enhanced BPS athletics, their ability to access facilities and expand their reach,” said Wu. “We have primarily been engaged in what this could mean for our students and community members, depending on which venues might be used.”
Said Epstein: “White [Stadium] does fit many of the goals of the city to have a public-private partnership and enhance that facility. It achieves many of the goals of both the city and the Boston Public Schools, it’s the right size and space and we’re very excited by its location and investing in that particular area of Boston.”
Catherine Morris, the founder and artistic director of the Boston Art & Music Soul BAMS Fest, which holds its popular music festival on the Franklin Park grounds, welcomed the opportunity for the city.
“Given that all of our government infrastructure is led by women, what an amazing opportunity this would be as a signaler to the communities that surround it and beyond of the investment in women who are breaking barriers, who are changing the game, if you will, and the sport of soccer,” said Morris. “This is a moment where we can take the lead in not only centering women in this way but also giving young girls the opportunity to see themselves in their community that’s right down the street, and be able to also utilize the park entirely as well beyond White Stadium.”
Mary Skipper, superintendent of Boston Public Schools, spoke to the advantages of another professional team in the city.
“BPS students include immigrants from 145 different countries who speak more than 70 languages, with nearly half speaking a language other than English at home — and to many of our students and families, culturally, soccer is more than just a sport,” Skipper said in a statement. “Similar to our partnership with the Boston Red Sox, having another local sports team here will serve as a great opportunity for our students to stay active, build social skills, receive additional resources, and engage in meaningful and positive relationships with adults. We look forward to partnering with the City as we continue to learn more details.”
The Boston Breakers played professional soccer in the area over a period of 10 years as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer League, the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite, and then as an original member of NWSL from 2013 through the 2017 season.
The team played its home games at Harvard Stadium, Dilboy Stadium in Somerville and Harvard’s Jordan Field.
The Breakers’ demise, said Epstein, “wasn’t a failure of the market, but more a failure of just the time and the model put forth. At that period of time, the National Women’s Soccer League and women’s sports in general were in a very different place. Now their ownership groups are really committing the level of investment that is required to put forth world-class [teams] that compete on the field.”
The NWSL has been weathering substantial controversy after an independent report led by former acting US Attorney General Sally Q. Yates outlined in October systemic emotional abuse and sexual misconduct spread across multiple teams, coaches and players.
Sportico, which initially reported the story of the expansion bids, wrote that Linda Henry, chief executive officer of the Globe, is one of the smaller investors in the Boston group.
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