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The backstory: In 2019, the Women's World Cup made waves with a staggering 1.1 billion viewership worldwide. But the US National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) final only had 915,000 viewers last year, while the men's championship match in Major League Soccer (MLS) attracted more than 2 million viewers.
More recently: Women's sports leagues are seeing some big investment action. Last year, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) raised US$75 million from investors to put towards marketing and recruitment efforts. And just last month, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) scored a huge win with a US$150 million investment from CVC Capital to help manage its sponsorships and broadcasting rights.
Sixth Street, an asset management company, and other investors are optimistic that media rights prices, sponsorships and stadium purchases for women's sports will rise, so they've decided to invest in women's sports for the first time. Their previous investments include top Spanish football clubs and the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.
The development: The Sixth Street ownership group just bought a new team in the NWSL for a whopping US$125 million. That's the biggest institutional investment in a women's sports franchise, according to the firm. The team will have some impressive co-chairs, including Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner. These ladies are all former US national team players. The team will start playing in 2024 in the Bay Area of California. NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman is excited about the league's progress and thinks this is a big step forward for the league's growth.
"Sixth Street has the incredible know-how, experience and bandwidth to devote to the league," said Jessica Berman, NWSL Commissioner, to CNBC. "We think that they're just going to be an incredible asset, not just locally, but for other teams and for the league."
"We're hopefully going to win lots of games and bring this amazing business to the Bay Area, but we're also going to train leaders," said Sheryl Sandberg, founder of Lean In, an organization dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of women, to CNBC. She will join the club as a board member and strategic investor, along with her husband Tom Bernthal.
The competition “has not historically been built like a business [but now] it’s really been able to scale and level up the professionalism, operational rigor and business strategy and tactics for growth,” said Jessica Berman, the commissioner of the NWSL, who started in 2022.