Sue Bird, who is nearing retirement, has announced she is buying a minority stake in National Women’s Soccer League franchise NJ/NY Gotham FC, the parties told Forbes.
For the Women’s National Basketball Association star, 41, the league’s growth potential is more than just a get-rich-quick scheme. She joins a growing list of Gotham FC investors including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy Murphy. NBA star Kevin Durant’s investment firm, Thirty Five Ventures; and former US national team soccer star Carli Lloyd. Financial terms of Bird’s stake were not disclosed, but the investment includes the provision that Bird will act as an “advisor” to the club as Gotham FC seeks to grow its brand on the crowded regional and national sports landscape.
It was not clear how much the NWSL franchise is worth. Sports bankers told Forbes that Michelle Kang bought the Washington Spirit of the NWSL for $35 million in February. Also, a fund associated with Los Angeles-based Angeles City FC raised more than $20 million, valuing the fund at about $110 million, according to Pitchbook. Angel City FC said it raised additional capital in February 2022.
Bird told Forbes that Gotham FC appears to be permanent, but declined to discuss financial details. However, Gotham FC has met her commercial standards and said she supports women’s empowerment in sports. She added that investing in an NWSL club didn’t take much convincing from her fiancée, soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
“There was no talk,” said Bird. “It was, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing.'”
Arrows pointing to the NWSL
On June 16, Bird announced her plans to retire after playing 21 seasons with the Seattle Hurricanes, a team that drafted her first overall in 2002. The 12-time All-Star led the Tide to four WNBA championships and won five Olympic gold medals. She will end up making about $72,000 this season, according to Spotrac, which tracks sports contracts.
When asked to sum up her career in two words, Bird said, “Winning and longevity.”
Bird In 2014, she said she began to contemplate life after the WNBA, saying, “At some point in my life as an athlete, I wanted to be ready for that time.” She began exploring investments in smaller companies and now has stakes in companies including San Francisco fitness equipment maker Tonal. That company has raised $250 million by 2021, according to Pitchbook. Bird co-owns the media production company Togetherxr.
“He’s done the hard work,” says Bird, overcoming the early challenges that NWSL startups face. The league started in 2013 and is in its 10th season. Like its two predecessors, the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer, the league aims to capitalize on the popularity of American women’s soccer.
Led by a star lineup including Rapinoe, Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, the U.S. national team showed a strong interest in women’s soccer in its 2015 Women’s World Cup match against Japan. The game drew a record 25 million viewers in the US in 2011. In 2019, the team won again, averaging 14 million viewers. That beat the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup, which averaged 11.4 million viewers.
During the pandemic, the NWSL saw viewership plummet after becoming the first league to return after a Covid-19 shutdown. The Challenge Cup Championship averaged 653,000 viewers on CBS in July 2020. That’s up from the 166,000 average viewers who watched the 2019 NWSL title game. The 2021 championship drew an average of 525,000 viewers.
“The talent level continues to improve, which speaks to the high level of play in the U.S.,” Bird said.
The NWSL is coming off a rocky 2021, with league commissioner Lisa Baird resigning after allegations of sexual misconduct against former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley. Sports executive Jessica Berman in April 2022 He took the lead As NWSL Commissioner, and she works with investment company Inner Circle Sports to expand the league.
Bird, a New York native, pointed to the league’s improved leadership to feel comfortable investing in the Gotham team. “It’s about the talent on the field and what they stand for off the field,” she said. “This is a reason to invest for me.”
If the NWSL is to grow or maintain viewership growth, it could help investors see a return on investments in franchises. The NWSL has rights deals with CBS Sports and Amazon, which together pay a reported $2.5 million. These agreements They will continue until 2024. Also, the league and the players agreed to the first collective bargaining agreement, which guarantees labor peace for the next five years. The agreement requires an investment of 100 million dollars from the team owners.
All the arrows are “pointing in the right direction,” Bird told Forbes. Investing in women’s sports is “the best investment you can make right now because of the rate of growth,” she says.