The Chicago Red Stars and a group of business leaders led by Laura Ricketts, co-owner of MLB’s Chicago Cubs, have reached an agreement in principle to purchase the NWSL team, Ricketts’ spokesperson announced Tuesday. The terms are the deal were not disclosed. Here’s what you need to know:
The transaction must receive final approval from the NWSL Board of Governors.
The group purchasing the team includes a “diverse group of Chicago women business and civic leaders,” according to a press release.
Ricketts is also a minority owner in the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
What this means for the franchise
The Red Stars have been in limbo for eight months, but the promise of a sale on the horizon means the promise of greater investment across the board — long overdue for the team that has been surviving but certainly not thriving.
The team is in 11th place and lost multiple players over the course of the offseason to other teams. There’s work ahead for a new ownership group across the board, from the front office to the technical staff to the roster to their facilities. It’s a massive project, but the good news is that the NWSL is on a general upwards trajectory and Chicago has real women’s soccer history to build upon. — Linehan
The group faces Red Stars stadium issues
One challenge the Red Stars face is determining the best stadium solution in the Chicago area. Their current home, SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., is a perfect venue in terms of capacity, but the inability of fans to get there via public transportation has always been a problem for the area’s professional soccer teams. It’s difficult for younger fans who live in the city to get to games.
The Chicago Fire paid a $65.5 million buyout from their lease with Bridgeview in 2020 in order to move downtown to Soldier Field — which has its own issues — but the MLS side does still play some games at SeatGeek, including its Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup games. You can draw fans out to Bridgeview, but there has always been an argument that it’s not as sustainable for growing the fan base. The Red Stars have averaged 4,033 fans per game in 2023, last in the NWSL.
Currently, the Fire and Red Stars both train out of Bridgeview, as well, though the Fire will move into a new training facility in the city’s Near West Side in the summer of 2024. Ricketts’ involvement at least piques interest as to whether the Red Stars could play some games, even as one-off events, at Wrigley Field, which has hosted soccer games in the past and also hosts college football — Northwestern will play there this fall for the third time since 2010. — Tenorio
What they’re saying
“We wholeheartedly believe in and are excited about the future of the Red Stars and the NWSL,” Ricketts said in the statement. “There is unprecedented fan growth in women’s soccer globally, and we want to be a part of building on that momentum here in Chicago.”
The NWSL also released a statement on the sale agreement.
“Laura Ricketts and the proposed new ownership group are exceptional leaders and we’re pleased with the progress that has been made. A final sale will require the approval of the NWSL Board of Governors, and we’ll have more to say if and when that occurs,” the league said.
Red Stars players released a collective statement on Oct. 10, 2022, requesting that Whisler sell the club, writing that they “look forward to finding a new majority owner who can help us realize the full potential that we as players always knew existed for this club.”
The group led by Ricketts includes Debra Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas and a partner in the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins ownership group, Impact Engine CEO Jessica Droste Yagan, TAWANI Enterprises president and CEO Jennifer Pritzker and Sidney Dillard, a partner at Chicago’s Loop Capital, among others.