What might go down as Aly Wagner’s greatest assist occurred long after she retired as a professional soccer player.
It came in the summer of 2022, when she pitched Charlotte Waxman, the wife of Sixth Street CEO Alan Waxman, on the virtues of a NWSL expansion team in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the time, Wagner was hoping the couple would come on board as individual investors.
“Charlotte comes out of the investment side, she comes out of business, so she asked all the right questions, probably screening me for Alan,” Wagner told ESPN.
Wagner’s sales pitch was so persuasive that Charlotte told Alan about the idea.
“My wife was like, ‘You’ve got to meet Aly,” Alan Waxman told ESPN. “The more we dug in on the different things that we look for in what makes a good investment, every place we dug it was coming back almost like, this doesn’t make any sense. This seems like the most structurally undervalued sports league opportunity of anything we see in the world, not only in the sports ecosystem, but also just across everything.
“We see literally about 400 deals a month. We see a lot of stuff, not only within only the sports ecosystem, across everything. It just didn’t make sense. But this is what happens across companies and sectors when they’re an inflection point. We’ve seen this in other industries and that’s kind of what we saw here at the pattern recognition.”
Now Wagner’s pitch has turned into reality with some considerable financial muscle behind it. Sixth Street is investing $125 million, which it touts as the largest institutional investment in women’s soccer to date. The investment consists of a $53 million expansion fee with the remainder to be spent on a training facility and the buildout of team infrastructure and staff. The team has not officially announced a home venue.
There’s some soccer pedigree in the investment group as well. Along with Wagner, three other former U.S. internationals with connections to Santa Clara University — Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton — have been dubbed the “Founding Four” and form part of the ownership group.
Former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg will be on the board and invest with her husband, Tom Bernthal, as will former Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts. Former San Francisco Giants VP of communications Staci Slaughter will also be on the board.
For Wagner, going after an investor with Waxman’s pedigree was borne out of the pain of seeing two previous women’s teams in the Bay Area — the San Jose CyberRays of the WUSA and the FC Gold Pride of the WPS — come and go. Back then, the pockets of ownership simply weren’t deep enough, and owning a team was seen as more of a social cause.
“Before it was kind of a heartstring decision, a moral decision,” Wagner said. “They weren’t necessarily run like a business. I mean, the intentions were spot on. They wanted to see women’s football here in the Bay Area because we do have such talent. But it wasn’t looked at like a long-term investment, long-term project. And so I think that coupled with the idea that the four of us have personally came out of the Bay Area, there’s a massive culture of women’s football in the Bay Area and the long-term vision for us is to produce our own talent.”
But for Waxman there were some long-term developments that were even more compelling. One of those was the advent of streaming services, noting that even 10 years ago it was difficult to access women’s soccer games. Not anymore.
“Streaming completely changed the game on everything,” he said. “It broke down all the barriers. That was a massive struggle, breaking down the walls of accessibility.
“It’s easy for a boy growing up to turn on and find basketball. It’s easy to find football. It’s easy to find baseball. To find women’s soccer, it was hard. Streaming, literally, you can look on your iPhone, look on your iPad, stream your TV. Now it’s accessible to everyone. And that was a massive game changer.”
Wagner added that the growth of social media also makes selling the sport easier.
“No longer were there gatekeepers that determined where marking dollars flowed,” she told ESPN. “We showed them the data and, and so for companies then, there was no argument there. They realized that that investment made sense and partnerships with women’s footballers makes a lot of sense.
Some NWSL teams, primarily Angel City FC, have brought in numerous celebrity owners. Waxman indicated that the Bay Area team won’t be going that route, and will be more strategic in terms of who they bring on board, pointing to the inclusion of Sandberg and Welts as examples.
“We don’t need capital,” Waxman said. “If someone can bring resources that help us achieve the mission, we’re open to that. We want partners that can bring value and help us execute the vision that we have.”