The NWSL announces the return of the Utah Royals in 2024 amid reported 3-team expansion

March 11, 2023; Sandy, UT, USA; NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman addresses the media on the return of professional women's soccer club Utah Royals FC to Utah under the ownership group of Real Salt Lake owner Ryan Smith at America First Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Royals are returning after a four-year hiatus. (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the new National Women’s Soccer League teams will be very familiar to fans.

The league is bringing back the Utah Royals, a team that existed from 2018-2020, for the 2024 season, it announced Saturday.

It was previously reported that the NWSL’s expansion will add teams in the Bay Area and Boston in addition to the return of Utah, with a reported $50 million expansion fee. Utah and the Bay Area are reportedly on track for 2024, while Boston will get its team later.

The Utah ownership group is led by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who also own Real Salt Lake of MLS. Smith also owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz, while Blitzer has interests in several teams including the Premier League’s Crystal Palace, the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Also in the ownership group are Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman, according to ESPN. The group got their team at a significant discount compared to the other two expansion teams, reportedly paying between $2 million and $5 million.

The team will play its games at Real Salt Lake’s America First Credit Union Field and will be led by team president Michelle Hyncik, a former Harvard soccer player who served as legal counsel for MLS and RSL.

The first version of the royals moved to Kansas City under the cloud of scandal

The royals’ return comes three years after the team’s previous incarnation was sold amid allegations against team owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake, over racist language and a toxic work culture, including the use of slurs.

Former Royals manager Craig Harrington was also among the many coaches and executives cited in the NWSL/NWSL Players Association report in his case of abuse and sexual advances towards Royals players.

The royals eventually went out of business and their assets were eventually sold to a Kansas City group that included Brittany Mahomes, wife of Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. That team became the Kansas City Current, which won 10-6-6 last season and made the NWSL championship game.

While the inaugural Utah Royals’ time ended in scandal, the NWSL noted that fan support in the city was a key reason for their decision, saying the team had the second-highest average attendance over its three seasons.

When Blitzer and Smith bought Real Salt Lake, that deal reportedly came with an option to acquire an NWSL expansion team, and the result is Utah getting back a football team it should never have lost. The NWSL announces the return of the Utah Royals in 2024 amid reported 3-team expansion

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