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Utah Royals will move to Kansas City, but women’s soccer may make a return here

Sale includes option to create a new Utah team in 2023

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) goes for the ball along with Portland Thorns FC defender Emily Menges (5), in soccer action between Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns FC at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The National Women’s Soccer League announced Monday that Utah Royals FC will move to Kansas City after it was bought by an ownership group headed by a couple based there. News of the move surfaced Saturday evening.

Utah Soccer LLC, in its own statement, said once new ownership is established in Utah, it will have the opportunity to “re-establish the Utah Royals FC name and franchise at Rio Tinto Stadium two years from now, in 2023″ — with a new team using the Royals name.

The deal between the NWSL and previous owner Dell Loy Hansen gives a potential new owner of the LLC rights to an expansion team, a league source told The Salt Lake Tribune. The new owner would still have to pay an expansion fee to the NWSL should the individual or group want to bring a team to Utah, and the rights are specific to the year 2023.

The option to bring a new expansion team back to Utah indicates that the league wants a presence here. The Royals averaged more than 10,000 fans in 2018 and 2019, making the team second in the league in attendance.

“Our hearts are full of gratitude and appreciation for the support and passion our fans have shared with us over the years,” Utah Soccer said. “We hope to carry on the rich tradition of the Utah Royals FC with leadership that shares our mission to provide prominent world class resources for female athletes.

“To this end, we prioritize cooperation with the leagues to ensure a smooth transition to new ownership, and we pledge our unwavering support for bringing Utah Royals FC back to Rio Tinto Stadium as soon as possible.”

Chris and Angie Long, co-founder and chief investment officer of Palmer Square Capital Management, bought the team from Hansen, who is in the process of selling Utah Soccer, a holding company that owns the Royals, Real Salt Lake and the Real Monarchs.

Joining the Longs are marketing and creative executive Jen Gulvik, who will serve as team president, and former professional soccer player Brittany Matthews.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our league, and I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Kansas City back to the NWSL,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said. “Kansas City is a soccer-rich community, and this fantastic ownership group is ready and able to commit the resources necessary for this club to be a massive success.”

Fans who supported the Royals since 2018 and helped the team average the second most spectators in the NWSL voiced their dismay about the move. But Royals general manager Stephanie Lee had a message of hope for them.

“When I first arrived to Salt Lake City three years ago, what stood out was the overwhelming support and excitement from the community,” Lee said. “I hope fans have solace that women’s professional soccer will be back.”

Utah Soccer, which now consists of Real Salt Lake and the Real Monarchs, is in the process of being sold by Hansen. He’s been trying to sell all three teams since late August, when allegations surfaced of racist and sexist behavior by him and his chief business officer, Andy Carrol. If he doesn’t find a buyer for RSL by Jan. 8, Major League Soccer will take over the process for that team.

“We love the Utah soccer community and have been honored to work with these world-renowned professional women athletes,” Hansen and his wife, Julie, said. “We will truly miss our athletes who have become our friends. We lend our full support to new owners who can continue our vision to have the women’s team equal to the men’s team in time, facilities and resources, and who can help shepherd the team into a new era of growth and success.”

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