Usually when a fanbase is stripped of their team because of their owner, it’s because the owner is simply unconscionably greedy, Modell-like stupid, or both. They can’t leverage their city into a publicly-funded larceny for a new stadium (or at least not as big of a theft as their black heart desires) and so they pack up the cats and move to a place that is more willing to be grifted.
When it turns out the owner is just a racist, misogynist asshole, generally that just sees a shift of ownership, like with the Clippers or Carolina Panthers. Rarely if ever do these things cause a complete uprooting of a team. But that’s what appears to be happening in Utah, sadly.
You’ll remember Dell Roy Hansen from such episodes as completely shitting on Black Lives Matter and Black players in the NBA and MLS for taking a knee, and being forced to sell Real Salt Lake, his MLS team, the Utah Royals, the NWSL team, and the Real Monarchs of the USL.
Three months on from that announcement, and there still isn’t a buyer for Utah Soccer Holdings. Which is not a huge surprise given the state of everything during the pandemic. As for Real Salt Lake, MLS is prepared to take over and operate the team until an owner can be found, which it has the capability to do for a season or two.
NWSL isn’t in the same position. Which is why it appears it’s going to have to allow a group from Kansas City to purchase the Royals and move them to reform FC Kansas City starting next season. The league is short on time. Preseason for NWSL is on February 1st, and offseason personnel and other decisions have to be made soon. Not having an ownership to do that is problematic, to say the least.
It’s not that Kansas City doesn’t have a history with the NWSL. They were a founding member of the league. But floundering attendance, which was less than 2,000 near the end of their existence, caused Hansen to swoop in and take the team to Utah.
The scene is different now, of course. NWSL has a much stronger foothold in the landscape than it did in 2017. Sporting KC averaged near capacity (when things weren’t completely fucked) at Children’s Mercy Park for years. Kansas City also had some of the highest TV ratings during the Women’s World Cup last summer. It is a pretty boisterous soccer market.
And when FC KC was last around, they were competing in the summers with a World Series Royals team. With all apologies to Mike Minor and Whit Merrifield, the Royals are a long way off from attracting those kinds of crowds again, when they can have crowds again.
Still, the Utah Royals (we’re dealing with a lot of Royals here, it’s like medieval Europe) were not a struggling team. They were only one of two franchises last season to average over 10,000 fans per game, and they averaged 9,000 in 2018, which put them behind only Portland in the league. Sadly their performances didn’t match, as they failed to make the playoffs in both of their seasons in Salt Lake City.
It’s not clear yet where Kansas City will house the NWSL team. Sporting KC has been reluctant to share Children’s Mercy Park, and already has their USL team playing there. The original FCKC played at Swope Soccer Village, but that only has a capacity of a few thousand. There is still hope that they’ll be able to play at the same venue as Sporting.
While there will always be ghouls out to use this as a cudgel to prove that women’s sports won’t ever take off, this appears to be just extraordinarily shitty timing. An owner reveals himself to be a shitbag and is forced to sell his team at a time when just about no one wants to take on this kind of investment, with its inherent risks. It absolutely sucks that a solid home for a NWSL team is going to lose that team when only one person did anything wrong.