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NWSL announces return of Utah Royals in 2024 amid reported 3-team expansion

Mar 11, 2023; Sandy, Utah, USA;  NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman addresses the media about the Utah Royals FC professional womenÕs soccer club returning to Utah under the ownership group of Ryan Smith, Real Salt Lake owner at America First Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
The Utah Royals are coming back after a four-season hiatus. (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the National Women's Soccer League's new teams will be very familiar for fans.

The league is bringing back the Utah Royals, a team that existed from 2018 to 2020, for the 2024 season, it announced Saturday.

The NWSL's expansion was previously reported to be adding teams in the Bay Area and Boston in addition to the return of Utah, with a reported expansion fee of $50 million. Utah and the Bay Area are reportedly on track for 2024, while Boston will get its team later.

The Utah ownership group is led by David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who also own Real Salt Lake of MLS. Smith also owns the NBA's Utah Jazz, while Blitzer has stakes in several teams, including Crystal Palace of the Premier League, the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Also in the ownership group are Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman, per ESPN. The group got the team at a significant discount compared to the other two expansion teams, reportedly paying between $2 million and $5 million.

The team will play its games at Real Salt Lake's America First Credit Union Field and will be run by team president Michelle Hyncik, a former Harvard soccer player who worked as legal counsel for the MLS and RSL.

First version Royals moved to Kansas City under cloud of scandal

The return of the Royals comes three years after the previous incarnation of the team was sold amid allegations against team owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake, of racist remarks and a toxic workplace culture, including the use of slurs.

Former Royals manager Craig Harrington was also among the many coaches and executives cited in the NWSL/NWSL Players Association report, in his case for being verbally abusive and making sexual advances toward Royals players.

The Royals eventually ceased operations and their assets were eventually sold to a group in Kansas City that included Brittany Mahomes, the wife of Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. That team became the Kansas City Current, which went 10-6-6 last season and reached the NWSL championship game.

While the first Royals tenure in Utah ended in scandal, the NWSL made sure to note the fan support in the city was a major reason for its decision, saying the team had the second-highest average attendance during its three seasons of existence.

When Blitzer and Smith purchased Real Salt Lake, that deal reportedly came with the option to acquire an NWSL expansion team, and the result is Utah getting back a soccer team it never should have lost.