Boston is back in business with women’s professional soccer.
The National Women’s Soccer League has awarded an expansion franchise to a local ownership group led by women that is set to spend in excess of $100 million to elbow its way onto a professional sports stage already crowded with big-name acts.
A City Hall Plaza event featuring Mayor Michelle Wu, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman, and the new owners is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the arrival of the still-unnamed team, which will begin play in 2026.
Commanding enough of the spotlight proved to be impossible for the Boston Breakers, the former women’s professional soccer team that played for assorted leagues and in four different stadiums between 2001 and 2018, when it dropped out of the NWSL.
The future of women’s soccer is brighter now.
Pockets are deeper.
And elbows are sharper.
“The landscape has really changed dramatically in the last five years,” said Jennifer Epstein, controlling partner of the Boston Unity Soccer Partners, the placeholder name for the ownership group that paid a $53 million expansion fee to the league and will invest around that same amount on the refurbishing of White Stadium, a separate training facility, and operational costs, according to industry sources.
“There’s a lot of attention on women’s sports right now, a global rise in fandom in not just women’s sports but in particular around women’s soccer. It’s a great moment in time. There’s a lot of momentum in the league.
“I like to think it’s the beginning of the modern era for women’s sports.”
In the wake of a Women’s World Cup that set attendance and viewership records, the NWSL is riding its own wave of popularity. With three weeks left in the season, attendance has topped 1 million, a league record, and with a modest media rights deal expiring soon, anticipation is high for a new one that will reflect the league’s expanding footprint and growing franchise valuations.
In its proposal to refurbish White Stadium in Franklin Park, the Boston team estimated its share to run at least $30 million.
Epstein, who thanked Berman “for her support throughout this process and believing in Boston,” is the founder of Juno Equity, a seed-round investor in women-led companies, and also the daughter of Celtics co-owner Robert Epstein.
The managing partners are Anna Palmer, a general partner at Flybridge Capital; Stephanie Connaughton, an angel investor, adviser, and mentor with early-stage startups; and Ami Kuan Danoff, co-founder and chief financial officer of the Women’s Foundation of Boston.
It’s a feature, not a footnote, of this team that its owners are female.
“When you think of the sports landscape here in Boston, we have five storied legacies, but you could say that there are certain things that are missing — and now there are certain things that are coming,” said Epstein, who noted that 95 percent of the group’s invested capital is from women and 40 percent from investors of color.
“I think presenting female role models — and that’s not just athletes on the field but in management and ownership-level positions — is impactful, and it would be meaningful for our city, for our young people of both genders, just to understand the pathways of opportunity that are available for you. And that’s what I think we’re presenting here.”
The expansion fees three years ago for three new NWSL teams in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Kansas City topped out at $5 million.
Los Angeles’s Angel City FC and its star-studded owners’ roster is now valued at $100 million.
This past spring, Bay Area FC also paid a $53 million expansion fee, with its owners reportedly committing to another $72 million in investments.
Bay Area and the Utah Royals will begin play next year, with Boston and a 16th team starting two years later.
Both local and leaguewide investment, said Epstein, “will ultimately lead to greater success and greater return on that investment.”
The city expects to reap the returns, too.
“There’s just an excitement around soccer in the city that’s always been there and especially with the upcoming opportunities to host the [men’s] World Cup in 2026 [at Gillette Stadium] dovetailing with the timelines here, I think the impact of a professional women’s sports team will be huge,” said Wu.
“To finally have back a professional women’s soccer team is really important to put up against all of the other sports franchises that are so dear and important to us.”
It wasn’t until last July that the ownership group assembled and began strategizing to win the bid.
Collaboration with the city began early as the team began scouting for a home venue.
The dilapidated, city-owned White Stadium became the focus, with the city and the owners collaborating on a private/public solution in which the stadium will be refurbished to meet NWSL standards for some 20 days a year and also deliver upgraded facilities to be used by Boston Public Schools students and community members and serve as headquarters for the BPS Athletics Department the rest of the year.
“The conversation kept coming back to this group really wanting to have a deep and sustained impact in our neighborhoods,” said Wu, “and not just to be loosely affiliated with the city of Boston and our fan base, but to have a strong partnership that would create opportunity in the day-to-day for Boston residents and especially young people.”
When details of that public/private vision reached Berman’s desk, it moved the Boston Unity Soccer Partners’s bid to the top of the list of Boston bidders, said Berman.
“Obviously, they delivered on their goal,” said Berman. “The idea of bringing a professional women’s team to a market that we know would support, invest, and be excited about women’s sports is an incredible opportunity.
“Most of our expansion strategy was actually driven more by the ownership groups who were interested and facilities that could help us to level-up the experience, both for our fans and for our players.”
A year after the owners launched their bid, the city selected their proposal, clearing the last major hurdle to bring Boston back into the NWSL.
“We’re just absolutely thrilled to have this ownership group join our league,” Berman said. “We think that their diverse backgrounds, their resources, and most importantly, their belief in this as a business in which they’re willing to invest is going to really meaningfully contribute to the growth of the league.”
Asked if the team would keep an open mind about one day sharing space with the Revolution should that team follow through on its intention to build a soccer-specific stadium in or near Boston, Epstein was noncommittal.
“You always want to be open for opportunity; that’s a great way to achieve the greatest success — keep your eyes open for opportunity,” said Epstein. “So, I can’t predict the future right now.”
Epstein said minority investors come from the Red Sox and Celtics, plus significant Boston business sectors. The team will be the first investment of the Monarch Collective, an investment fund dedicated to women’s sports.
The ownership roster will not try to replicate Angel City’s Hollywood tilt.
“That’s really suited to their market,” said Epstein. “We’ll build our team and our ownership group being thoughtful about what’s going to resonate and be meaningful to our market.”
Linda Henry, CEO of Boston Globe Media, is also an investor in the team.
This will be the third professional women’s sports team in Boston. The city will have a franchise in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League that begins play in January. That team is owned by the PWHL. The Boston Renegades are five-time defending champions of the Women’s Football Alliance.
New England is represented in the WNBA by the Connecticut Sun, who play in Uncasville, Conn.
Read more about the NWSL
- How viable is a National Women’s Soccer League team in Boston?
- Where is the NWSL successful? What could Boston learn from those cities?
- Investors propose $30 million plan to renovate White Stadium for expansion NWSL team
- Q&A: NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman on possible expansion to Boston, league success, and more
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.