NWSL: Utah Royals relocating to Kansas City a positive growth

NWSL (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
NWSL (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /

The Utah Royals relocating to Kansas City is a positive growth for the NWSL

After leaving Kansas City for Utah three years ago, the NWSL will return to Missouri as it was reported that the Utah Royals are relocating to Kansas City. The relocation comes nearly three months after Utah Royals, Real Monarchs, and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announced his intention to sell Utah Soccer Holdings.

Hansens’s intention to sell followed his expressed dissatisfaction with Real Salt Lake and MLS players when they chose not to play in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While the franchise is relocating, it is more due to Hansen’s desire to sell the organization rather than a lack of support or facilities in Utah.

The Royals experienced a 14% increase from 2018 to 2019 and had the second-highest attendance in the league with an average of 10,774 fans watching their team take the field. In only two years with fans in the stands, Utah was pushing the standard for support of the women’s game in the United States.

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Utah is not the only team that saw an increase in attendance, as the entire NWSL was coming off a historic 2019 and has momentum pushing it ahead into the future.

The 2020 season was the strangest season to date, but the league made the most of it by becoming the first league to return to play and shattering television viewership records. Before COVID-19 hit and fans were permitted in the stands, the league saw an average 22% increase in attendance.

The attendance and viewership increase were only a portion of the positives surrounding the league heading into 2021. Racing Louisville is set to become the league’s 10th team starting play in 2021 with Angel City FC in Los Angeles coming to the league in 2022.

While expansion is in order for 2021 and 2022, relocation is on the horizon as Kansas City once again has an NWSL team to call its own. This relocation follows the Boston Breakers folding ahead of the 2018 season. Similar to that process, the players on Utah will go through a dispersal draft process to join new clubs.

Before folding in 2017, FC Kansas City was one of the founding clubs in the newly formed NWSL. During its five years in the league, FCKC won two NWSL Championships and did not make the playoffs its final two seasons of existence.

Heading into the move, one of the biggest questions is where will the new NWSL team play in Kansas City. An obvious choice would be Children’s Mercy Park, home of Sporting Kansas City, with a capacity of 18,476. However, it has been reported by both The Athletic and The Equalizer that SKC is not interested in sharing the stadium with a women’s side.

In its inaugural season, FCKC played matches at Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kansas before moving to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s campus to play in 2014. In 2015, the team entered into a partnership with SKC to play its games at Swope Soccer Village, where SKC trained.

However, FCKC did play its 2015 home opener at Sporting Park, now Children’s Mercy Park, and set an attendance record of 8,489 fans against Sky Blue FC. While the start of 2015 signaled positivity in Kansas City, that quickly went away with the team averaging only 1,788 fans in 2017.

Kansas City is known as one of the best soccer cities in the country with fans packing out matches and consistently being one of the best cities for soccer television ratings. In the 2015 and 2019 World Cup, Kansas City was in the top five for city markets to watch the United States win both championships.

The numbers are encouraging and there certainly is potential for Kansas City to improve on their last franchise and make this one a staple in the NWSL. Eyes will be on the club to fill the shoes of a successful club in Utah and continue the upward trajectory the league is experiencing.

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Supporters in Kansas City should be excited to watch their new team in action, wherever that may be. However, supporters in Utah have been dealt the worst blow imaginable in sports. They lost their club, despite doing all they could and supporting it better than most.