With the team committed to the pre-professional USL W League in 2023, leadership of Minnesota Aurora is planning a move to the professional ranks—NWSL or USL Super League—for 2024 and beyond.
It’s been a quick road to success for the community-owned Aurora, debuting to large crowds in 2022. The team was borne of a community investment campaign in late 2021 that ended up fully subscribed, raising $1 million from 3,080 investors in 48 states, eight countries, two military bases, and one embassy. The name and branding came from three finalists presented to the team’s Community Owners, and the team’s venue, TCO Stadium, was announced in February 2022 in conjunction with season-ticket sales. By the end of the year the team was selling out 6,500-capacity TCO Stadium at the heart of the Minnesota Vikings training complex/Viking Lakes development in suburban Eagan and made it to the league’s championship round; we visited and found plenty of enthusiastic fans.
With that level of success and the team generating plenty of buzz, it was inevitable it would outgrow its pre-pro roots and seek a higher level of play. Hence a letter sent to the 3,080 community investors yesterday:
“We believe the Minnesota Aurora can and should be a professional team. From the beginning, we always envisioned this club as being built different, proving our concept and then taking it to the highest level possible. Because of the overwhelming community support in our first year, we now have the opportunity to pursue a professional team far sooner than we initially expected….
“For the time being, nothing about this process impacts your current ownership interest in Minnesota Aurora and community ownership remains an essential part of how we think this club will be different. It’s impossible to know what, exactly, the corporate structure of the club might look like in a professional league. But the Board of Directors remain committed to chartering a new path forward in women’s soccer.”
NWSL and USL Super League will generate far different fan and financial experiences, however. NWSL is coming off a 2022 season that saw plenty of attendance records, rising economic fortunes, a steep rise in franchise valuations—and lots of problems with player treatment and team indifference to abuse allegations. USL Super League is launching in August 2023 and will align with the women’s international “fall-to-summer” soccer calendar, which could prove to be highly challenging in North America: dodging poor weather will always be an impediment for northern-clime teams, and it’s an unproved schedule in American soccer.
Buying into NWSL may be too much of a challenge, however. The league is planning on expanding by two teams by 2024, and with the Utah Royals all but guaranteed to return, that leaves just one slot opening. Plenty of investor groups have expressed interest in NWSL teams, as have a number of MLS owners. Moving to NWSL will also mean a revamp of the team’s financial structure: a deep-pocketed lead owner worth more than $40 million controlling at least 35 percent of the team is a requirement of the U.S. Soccer Federation, with the entire ownership group reporting a net worth of at least $70 million. In the past, Minnesota United lead owner Dr. Bill McGuire has spoken about adding a NWSL team to the mix at Allianz Field. A tempting proposition, to be sure.
Still, the fact that Minnesota Aurora can make the leap from expansion W League squad to potential NWSL candidate says a lot about the growth of the women’s pro game as the 2023 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup competition approaches—a tourney that historically boosts attention for women’s soccer. Look for more investor groups to emerge with bids for new women’s pro soccer teams.
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