Published: April 12, 2023 | By: Fortune
– Goal! From a new $100 million fund to back women’s athletic leagues, teams, and companies to a record 10 million viewers for the women’s basketball NCAA championship final, people are paying attention to women’s sports. Among those watching? Sheryl Sandberg and her husband, Tom Bernthal.
The pair are part of a group of investors backing a new National Women’s Soccer League franchise set to head to the San Francisco Bay Area. With a $125 million total investment led by Sixth Street—the largest institutional investment in professional women’s soccer in history—a 14th team will join the growing league in 2024, the NWSL announced today.
Players including Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton, and Aly Wagner were involved in the effort to bring a soccer club to the Bay Area, a
competitive bidding process. NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement that the league sought “ownership groups that not only had the
structural integrity for our league to thrive, but also demonstrated a genuine commitment to investing in and creating first-rate organizations on and off the
Sandberg and Bernthal, for their part, saw the opportunity to marry their interests and expand the impact of a soccer franchise to the broader community in the Bay Area, especially after following the success of Angel City FC in Los Angeles.
Sandberg sees a direct correlation between her longtime work for women’s advancement in business and this new endeavor in athletics. “There’s a clear link between sports and leadership,” the former Facebook and Meta COO told me yesterday. She cites research that has shown that a majority of women who make it to the C-suite played sports growing up.
While that wasn’t Sandberg’s own experience—she’s “not a good athlete,” she says —she nevertheless sees the value of girls’ sports in developing confidence and leadership skills. Sandberg and Bernthal’s daughters play lacrosse and soccer, and Bernthal once coached girls’ soccer. (The pair wed last year and each have children from prior relationships.) “We can go to their games, we can go to their brothers’ games,” Sandberg says. “We are telling them from a young age, ‘Your activities are just as important.’”
Sandberg is set to join the board of the club and plans for the club to offer leadership training to the local community, in addition to its on-field play.
With their respective résumés (Bernthal is the founder of a market research and consulting firm), Sandberg and Bernthal also see the business opportunity in women’s sports which many have pinpointed. Attendance at NWSL games last year was up 80% and ticket revenue skyrocketed 125%, Bernthal says. “
We’re excited that as people start talking about the Warriors, the 49ers, and the Giants, they’re going to talk about this too,” he says.
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