Two NWSL teams put up for sale: Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars begin process to sell majority stakes

In a span of hours on Thursday, two NWSL teams with rich histories were reportedly put up for sale. Portland Thorns FC and Portland Timbers owner Meritt Paulson announced he will sell the Portland Thorns franchise and not the Timbers club. Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whistler has hired Inner Circle, an investment bank, to help facilitate the sale of his majority ownership stake, according to Sportico

The decision to sell the Thorns comes after allegations of sexual misconduct and coercion from 2015 around former Thorns head coach Paul Riley. Paulson has since been under public pressure to sell his stake in both franchises in light of new the U.S. Soccer investigation, led by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. The full findings of the report included further details of the clubs’ obstruction and unwillingness to participate in the investigation.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the Thorns to have a new owner so that the Club can operate at the league level with a fresh voice to be a driving force for the NWSL,” Paulson said in the statement.

“This has been a difficult decision for me, but I believe this is the best way to position the Thorns for continued success during this next chapter of the NWSL and the sport.”

Upon the public release of the Yates report in early October, public pressure also boiled over to players, with various U.S. women’s national team players expressing the dismissal of owners and executives. USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn told the media, “It’s my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who have repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations, should be gone.”

When will the Thorns be sold?

There is currently no timeline for the sale to take place and Paulson’s statement mentioned the club wants to work with the league to “ensure we find the right group to take the reins.” In the meantime, Paulson has pledged $1 million to establish a new player safety office at the league.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman reiterated the collaborative efforts for new ownership in a league statement, “I support Merritt Paulson’s decision to sell the Thorns, his commitment to aid in a smooth transition for a new ownership group in Portland, and the $1M contribution to the league,” Berman said.

“This money will be used to launch a new NWSL Player Safety Department — coming out of this chapter in the NWSL’s history we will emerge stronger than ever before and make this a league the players are proud to play in … We will continue to work collaboratively to ensure the players and the club have everything they need to be successful on and off the pitch.”

Chicago Red Stars also for sale

In a report by Sportico, Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whistler has hired Inner Circle, an investment bank, to help facilitate the sale of his majority ownership stake. Further reporting detailed Whisler’s hiring of a third party was confirmed to shareholders via board chair Kim Vender Moffat. The news came just hours after the Thorns’ announcement. Inner Circle is also leading the sales of two future NWSL expansion teams. 

The news is a change from October when Whisler previously issued a statement saying he would step away from decision-making within the organization. There is currently no timeline for a sale of Whisler’s majority shares at this time. 

What’s next

The NWSL has already announced the schedule framework for the upcoming 2023 season. The schedule has several key dates in place including the start of the regular season, which kicks off on March 25, and the NWSL championship final on Nov. 11. The NWSL Draft is set to take place on Jan. 12 in Philadelphia at the United Soccer Coaches Convention.

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