Utah Royals to return to NWSL in 2024 as expansion team

Utah Royals to return to NWSL in 2024 as expansion team

(Reuters) - Utah Royals will return to the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) in 2024 as the American top-flight competition's newest expansion franchise, the club and league said on Saturday.

The team is owned by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who purchased Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake (RSL) in 2022 in a deal that included the opportunity to acquire an expansion team in the NWSL.

"When we acquired Real Salt Lake last year, we said it was a matter of when, not if, the NWSL would return to Utah," Blitzer said. "This has always been an integral part of our mission."

Blitzer owns stakes in the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and multiple European soccer clubs including Premier League side Crystal Palace, while Smith owns NBA franchise Utah Jazz.

The Royals were part of the NWSL for three seasons from 2018 to 2020. Former owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned RSL, sold both clubs following reports of racist behaviour and a toxic culture at the Royals and RSL.

The Royals ceased operations in 2020 and its players were transferred to the Kansas City NWSL expansion team, which joined the league in the 2021 season as Kansas City Current.

The NWSL, which began in 2013 with eight clubs, will now have 13 teams with the addition of the Royals from next year.

"The return of the women's game to Utah, where soccer roots run deep, is a victory for players and fans alike," NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Jamie Freed)