Utah Royals to return as NWSL expansion team

Literally no surprise here: The Utah Royals are returning to National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2024, as the league awards an expansion franchise to David Blitzer (Global Football Holdings) and Ryan Smith (Smith Entertainment Group).

The original Utah Royals were a casualty of Dell Loy Hansen’s questionable management of Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals; the Royals were folded and replaced in the NWSL lineup by KC Current, but the rights to an expansion team were part of the sale of Real Salt Lake’s assets to Smith Entertainment Group. It was a no-brainer that Smith and Blitzer would exercise those expansion rights, valued at a reported $2 million, at a time when the valuations of NWSL teams were rapidly rising to the point where the second expected 2024 expansion team fee is $50 million. As we wrote: “As part of the sale of the Utah Royals to Kansas City investors and the sale of Real Salt Lake to David Blitzer and SEG, the new owners were given an option for a new NWSL team. Blitzer has spoken of his desire to see the NWSL team return to the Beehive State, saying it was a matter of if, not when. And given the chance to land a NWSL team at a considerable discount in a market that previously support pro women’s soccer, NWSL would be the logical assumption.”

“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. With today’s announcement, we are thrilled to fulfill the promise we made to our incredible fan base,” Blitzer said via press statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use our resources and platform to take women’s soccer to the next level while inspiring future players and fans globally.” 

“We are excited to expand the ‘One Utah’ family and bring the Royals back to Utah,” club owner Ryan Smith said via press statement.. “Having professional women’s soccer back in the state has always been a top priority for David Blitzer and myself, and is very meaningful to us, the fans, our partners, and the entire state.”

Utah Royals FC will be led by President Michelle Hyncik, Real Salt Lake’s General Counsel for the past three years. Before making the move to Utah, Hyncik spent five years working with Major League Soccer as Senior Legal Counsel. Prior to her career in professional sports, Hyncik worked at the WilmerHale law firm in New York City as a Senior Associate regulatory attorney. Hyncik received her B.A. from Harvard University, where she was a graduating member of the Harvard Women’s soccer team, and then earned a J.D. from Columbia University Law School. 

“As someone who credits my entire livelihood to my home on the pitch, I will prioritize empowering our Utah Royals players, and the young girls and boys who look up to them, through providing state of the art facilities, resources, staff, engagement, and opportunities to achieve their full potential,” Hyncik said via press release. “I could not be prouder to be part of this community and the Utah Soccer family as we bring world-class women’s soccer to Utah in 2024.” 

The team will once again to compete at America First Credit Union Field, shared with Real Salt Lake. 

“We are delighted to welcome Utah Royals FC and its dedicated fan base back into the league,” said NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman via press release. “The return of the women’s game to Utah, where soccer roots run deep, is a victory for players and fans alike. As the Royals begin this new chapter under the new ownership and leadership, I am confident the club will build a player-first organization equipped with the tools to thrive on and off the pitch.”

Additionally, the Club has announced America First Credit Union as the Utah Royals FC jersey front partner.

 The inaugural Royals team kicked off its tenure on March 28, 2018 in front of a sold-out, standing room only crowd of 19,203 in Sandy, Utah. During its three seasons, the Club attracted some of the world’s brightest soccer talents, including four FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions in Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez and Becky Sauerbrunn, as well as Spain’s leading scorer and UEFA Women’s Championship winner, Vero Boquete. The Utah Royals FC averaged the second-highest attendance in the league, exceeding 11,000 fans per game. 

Joining the club are investors 42 Futbol Group, five business leaders, including Jessica Gelman, who will serve on the NWSL Board of Governors for the Utah Royals. Gelman is CEO of the Kraft Analytics Group and co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. 

Photo courtesy Real Salt Lake.

RELATED STORIES: Will Arctos investment bring back Utah Royals?; Kansas City NWSL team replaces Utah Royals FC in league lineup; Utah Royals FC Draw Sellout Crowd to Home Opener

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August Publications