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The Royal Watch: One year later, the NWSL comes to Utah

This week’s Royal Watch continues the series for November about the fall of FC Kansas City that ultimately led to an NWSL team in Salt Lake City.

Matt Montgomerry | RSL Soapbox

Crazy to believe that it’s been a year that FC Kansas City ceased operations, and the National Women’s Soccer League announced that Real Salt Lake had acquired an NWSL franchise. Last week, we took a #TBT look at what went wrong in Kansas City and what it meant for the league.

This week, it’s another #TBT, looking back at the announcement of an NWSL franchise coming to Utah, which would be later known as Utah Royals FC, and why Utah was even under consideration.

The announcement

As the future of FC Kansas City was in doubt, with rumors and reports that FCKC would either fold or relocate, Real Salt Lake emerged in the picture by announcing on Twitter about a press conference regarding the NWSL. The premature tweet was eventually deleted, but enough people had seen it that speculation and rumors spread that Real Salt Lake was replacing the Kansas City club.

In a press conference on November 16, 2017, the league and Real Salt Lake confirmed that a new franchise would emerge in Utah for the 2018 season and beyond, with home games at Rio Tinto Stadium.

For years, RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen had wanted an NWSL team in Salt Lake City, especially as the league began expanding. Hansen hoped that one day he would be granted a team after its USL objectives were met for a second-tier minor league men’s club. But with FC Kansas City in trouble, the opportunity for Hansen to launch an NWSL team came much sooner than expected, in a span of 15 days.

Why Utah?

It wasn’t just that an MLS owner was willing to take on the responsibilities of an NWSL team and commit to helping bring stability to the league. The state of Utah continues to grow as a hub for soccer, specifically women’s soccer. Utah has six Division I women’s soccer programs (BYU, Southern Utah, University of Utah, Utah State, Utah Valley, Weber State University), easily outnumbering the men’s. Attendance for these programs is among the highest in the NCAA, with BYU leading in Division I attendance. The state also has the highest rate of high school girl soccer players recruited by Division 1 schools (5.8%).

The decision to bring a team to Utah was not just on whether Hansen was financially able, but also on the state’s support for the beautiful game and women’s soccer.

“Our community is already passionate about women’s sports, and we believe that empowering and advancing the women’s game accelerates the change to build a better Utah,” Hansen said at the press conference, announcing the new NWSL franchise.

In a time and age where women athletes are fighting for equality, Hansen’s vision, along with support for women’s soccer in Utah, the decision to bring an NWSL team to Utah was a “rallying point for equality.”

“The locker rooms will be equal. The food will be equal. The participation will be equal. I honestly believe we will fill this stadium as easily as we do with the men’s team,” he said. “What we want to make this a rallying point for the evolution of equality for men and women in Utah.”

The new NWSL team would not just be another team in Utah under the RSL organization, but one that would begin to set the bar for the future of the NWSL.