The Utah Royals will return to the NWSL as an expansion team in 2024, the league announced Saturday.
The club, which is the sister team of Real Salt Lake from Major League Soccer, also shared the news on his own Twitter account, revealing his coat of arms, which depicts a lioness wearing a crown. The logo was designed by Philadelphia-based artist Tovah Kaiser and her predominantly female team.
“We’ve been told that the lion is king of the jungle, but the lioness is true royalty,” reads a promotional video. “While everyone is resting, she gets to work. She is quick and determined, a fearless leader who is powerful and expressive. Stronger together with the power to endure, this is the return of royalty: a team that represents everyone and is led by women empowering women. We are the FC Utah Royals.”
Michelle Hyncik, former vice president of legal affairs and general counsel at Real Salt Lake, will serve as president of the royals. She has MLS front office experience and played football as a student at Harvard University.
“As someone who credits my entire livelihood to my home on the field, I will prioritize empowering our Utah Royals players and the young girls and boys who look up to them by providing state of the art facilities, resources, people, dedication , and ways to realize their full potential,” Hyncik said in a statement. “I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this community and the Utah Soccer family as we bring world-class women’s soccer to Utah in 2024.”
History of the Utah Royals
The original Royals spent three seasons in Utah from 2018 to 2020, playing at Rio Tinto Stadium, now America First Credit Union Field, in Sandy, just outside of Salt Lake City. Although the club did not reach the playoffs during his tenure, he was very popular. According to Utah’s KSL News, it was only one of two NWSL teams to average 10,000 or more fans per game, surpassed only by the Portland Thorns.
In 2020, the team came under scrutiny when head coach Craig Harrington and assistant Louis Lancaster were furloughed for verbal abuse and sexual advances towards players. Owner Dell Loy Hansen has been criticized for disapproving of Real Salt Lake’s support of the racial justice movement. After being investigated for racist remarks, he sold Utah Soccer Holdings, which consisted of the USL’s Royals, Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs, at the end of the year.
The royals moved east in December 2020 to become Kansas City Current, which owns a group that includes Brittany and Patrick Mahomes.
In January 2022, Real Salt Lake passed ownership to David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who also co-owns the Utah Jazz. They said bringing the Utah Royals back was always part of their plan.
“We said it was a matter of when, not if the NWSL would return to Utah. This has always been an integral part of our mission. With today’s announcement, we’re excited to deliver on the promise we made to our incredible fanbase,” said Blitzer. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use our resources and platform to take women’s football to the next level while inspiring future players and fans worldwide.”
“We’re excited to expand the ‘One Utah’ family and bring the Royals back to Utah,” said Smith. “The return of professional women’s football to the state has always been a top priority for David Blitzer and me and is of great importance to us, the fans, our partners and the entire state.”
NWSL Extension Teams
In July, the NWSL announced it would add two expansion teams in 2024 and a third later. The other two cities are Boston and the San Francisco area, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the latter two cities will pay a record $50 entry fee. Utah paid a much cheaper price, reportedly ranging from $2 million to $5 million.
Commissioner Jessica Berman said access to reproductive rights and abortion would be considered if a city reopened after the Roe v. Wade would be tasked with an expansion team.
Abortion up to 18 weeks gestation is legal in Utah. A law to completely ban abortion is under consideration.