Utah Royals to return to NWSL as expansion team in 2024

Utah Royals to return to NWSL as expansion team in 2024

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The Utah Royals are returning to the NWSL as an expansion team in 2024, the league announced on Saturday.

The club, which is the sister team to Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, also shared the news on its own Twitter account, revealing its crest, which features a lioness wearing a crown. The logo was designed by Philadelphia-based artist Tovah Kaiser and her team comprised of mostly women.

“We’ve been told the lion is the king of the jungle, but the lioness is the real royalty,” a promotional video said. “While everyone rests, she gets to work. She’s fast and determined, a fearless leader who is powerful and expressive. Stronger together with the power to persevere, this is the return of royalty: a team that represents everyone, run by women empowering women. We are Utah Royals FC.”

Michelle Hyncik, former vice president of legal and general counsel for Real Salt Lake, will serve as the Royals’ president. She has experience in the MLS front office and played soccer as a student-athlete at Harvard University.

“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 in a statement. “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.” 

History of Utah Royals

The original Royals spent three seasons in Utah from 2018-2020 playing at Rio Tinto Stadium, now America First Credit Union Field, in Sandy just outside of Salt Lake City. Despite not making the playoffs in its tenure, the club was very popular. According to Utah’s KSL news, it was only one of two NWSL teams to average 10,000 or more fans per match, second only to the Portland Thorns.

In 2020, the team faced scrutiny when head coach Craig Harrington and assistant Louis Lancaster were placed on a leave of absence for verbally abusing and making sexual advances to players. Owner Dell Loy Hansen was criticized for voicing disapproval of Real Salt Lake’s support of the racial justice movement. After being investigated for racist comments, he sold Utah Soccer Holdings — which consisted of the Royals, Real Salt Lake and USL’s Real Monarchs — at the end of the year.

The Royals moved east in December 2020 to become the Kansas City Current, whose ownership group includes Brittany and Patrick Mahomes.

In January 2022, Real Salt Lake transitioned ownership to David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who is also co-owner of the Utah Jazz. They said that bringing back the Utah Royals was always a part of their plan.

“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. “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,” Smith said. “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.”

NWSL expansion teams

In July, the NWSL announced that it was adding two expansion teams in 2024 and a third later on. The other two cities are Boston and the San Francisco area with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the last two cities will pay a record $50 entrance fee. Utah paid a much cheaper price, between a reported $2 and $5 million.

Commissioner Jessica Berman said that access to reproductive rights and abortion would be considered when awarding a city with an expansion team in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Abortion up until 18 weeks of pregnancy is legal in Utah. A law banning abortion completely is currently under review.

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