An NWSL team within the five boroughs? Probably not any time soon. Here’s why.
As the National Women’s Soccer League continues to grow and expand, markets all over the country have clamored for the opportunity to throw their hats in the ring and bring a team to their cities. At a press conference held before the NWSL final in October of 2022, Commissioner Jessica Berman told media that there were 82 interested expansion groups who inquired about bringing a team to the league. Most recently, new teams with high profile investment groups have been announced for 2024 in California’s Bay Area and also in Utah, with another team headed to Boston in the near future.
Interest in women’s soccer and women’s sports generally has grown in leaps and bounds over recent years. 915,000 viewers tuned in to watch the Portland Thorns win the 2022 NWSL Championship on CBS, and NWSL teams are routinely hitting record setting attendance numbers at their stadiums.
So what about New York City? The metropolitan area already has NWSL side NJ/NY Gotham FC that plays across the Hudson in Harrison, New Jersey. As conversations and chatter have arisen over the possibility of future teams, the notion of a franchise within the five boroughs has been on the minds of soccer fans both locally and around the country.
Unfortunately, having a team with a New York City address in the near future feels more like a pipedream than a potential reality. Here are the reasons why.
Gotham FC’s existing territory
Although Gotham FC only recently added “NY” to their moniker following a rebrand in 2021, the team formerly known as Sky Blue already had a stake in the New York City metropolitan area. The standard territory rule for NWSL teams is 75 miles. Even during their days playing at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field, this would have put a team in New York City just out of reach. Gotham has played their home games at Red Bull Arena since rebranding in 2021, inching even closer to the New York border.
Under the current territory rules, this leaves two options for a professional women’s team in New York City: a takeover of Gotham FC that would move it within the five boroughs, or a non-NWSL women’s team in the upcoming USL Super League.
Where would they play?
As fans of New York City soccer know, space to play within the boroughs is not easy to come by. Major League Soccer’s New York City FC has called Yankee Stadium home and trains in Rockland County just outside of city limits. The team also plays select games at Citi Field in Queens.
This current set up of playing home games at Major League Baseball stadiums would preclude an NWSL team from playing in the city. The Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in January 2022 prohibits playing at baseball stadiums.
However, NYCFC will not be playing at baseball fields forever. After a years-long struggle to find a permanent home, the team announced in November 2022 that the club intends to build a $780 million, 25,000-seat stadium in Willets Points, Queens right next to Citi Field. Even with this stadium set to be completed in 2027, there is still the issue of the NWSL’s 75 mile territory radius.
Would NYCFC buy Gotham?
A sale of Gotham at this moment feels unlikely, and there has been no indication that majority owners, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy Murphy, are interested in selling. The team has recently grown their ownership group substantially, bringing in high profile investors including Carli Lloyd, Eli Manning, and Kevin Durant.
Additionally, sources close to Gotham explained to The Local W that a sale to NYCFC is not being considered and neither is a sale of the majority stake.
Similarly, it does not seem that NYCFC is currently exploring this particular avenue. A source familiar with the situation told The Local W that although NYCFC ownership is passionate about the women’s game and interested in the idea of one day having a professional women’s team in the city, there are no concrete plans to do so and no timeline on when such an initiative would even begin.
With NYCFC’s full focus on building their new stadium and surrounding development set to be complete in 2027, it appears that it would be at least a few years before the MLS side would begin to take the steps necessary to bring a women’s team to the city.
However, there does seem to be a clear indication that NYCFC has the idea of a women’s side on their minds. As Hudson River Blue previously reported, the club recently sent out a survey to season ticket holders that included a question gauging fan interest in a women’s side.
The survey question comes on the heels of a February 2023 roundtable discussion with NYCFC President and CEO Brad Sims who indicated that an NYCFC women’s team is definitely of interest to the organization.
“Another thing is women’s football. We’re bullish on women’s football, and we’ve been bullish on women’s football,” Sims said at the roundtable. “We have one of the best women’s football teams in the world from a City Football Group standpoint with Manchester City Women, our team in Girona has a women’s team, Melbourne has a women’s team, Montevideo has a women’s team, and I’m probably missing some others. It’s something that’s core to who we are as a company. It’s something that we want, that we plan to have.”
What does this mean?
Although current conditions do not lend themselves to an NWSL team in New York City in the immediate future, it could be a possibility down the line. In March of 2022, Commissioner Berman was asked about the possibility of a second team in the NYC market through expansion. “I guess time will tell,” she said, explaining that during that period, the expansion process had not formally started. “We’ll have to see how it unfolds.”