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Utah Royals FC ownership transferred to group in Kansas City; right reserved to reestablish in 2023

Utah Royals FC players celebrate after forward Amy Rodriguez (8) scores their first goal against Portland Thorns FC during an NWSL soccer game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Utah Royals FC players celebrate after forward Amy Rodriguez (8) scores their first goal against Portland Thorns FC during an NWSL soccer game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Utah Royals FC made official Monday morning the news that broke Saturday, which will see ownership of the franchise transferred to a group in Kansas City led by husband and wife Chris and Angie Long, allowing the team to play in 2021.

However, the Kansas City team will enter the National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion franchise, and should new ownership be found, the club would maintain the right to reestablish the Utah Royals FC name and play at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2023.

That would be different from what happened when URFC arrived in Utah in 2017 from Kansas City, as the franchise did not go through the expansion process but was essentially just transferred.

The club said more information will be provided “in the coming weeks.”

“Our hearts are full of gratitude and appreciation for the support and passion our fans have shared with us over the years,” the club said in its announcement Monday. “We hope to carry on the rich tradition of the Utah Royals FC with leadership that shares our mission to provide prominent world class resources for female athletes.

“To this end, we prioritize cooperation with the leagues to ensure a smooth transition to new ownership, and we pledge our unwavering support for bringing Utah Royals FC back to Rio Tinto Stadium as soon as possible.”

Departing owners Dell Loy and Julie Hansen said in a statement, “We love the Utah soccer community and have been honored to work with these world-renowned professional women athletes. We will truly miss our athletes who have become our friends. We lend our full support to new owners who can continue our vision to have the women’s team equal to the men’s team in time, facilities, and resources and who can help shepherd the team into a new era of growth and success.”

Dell Loy Hansen announced in late August his intention to sell URFC and Real Salt Lake amid controversy after he criticized RSL players for playing on Aug. 26 when athletes around the country opted not to play after police in Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake, a Black man. That led to reports of sexism and an otherwise poor working environment within the organization.

URFC general manager Stephanie Lee reiterated in a statement Monday the notion that there will be a professional team in Utah in 2023.

“When I first arrived to Salt Lake City three years ago, what stood out was the overwhelming support and excitement from the community,” she said. “I hope fans have solace that women’s professional soccer will be back.”

The announcement Monday has no bearing on the sale of RSL. Multiple outlets have reported that the Hansens have until Jan. 8 to sell the club before Major League Soccer assumes control of the transaction.

When URFC was launched after FC Kansas City floundered, Dell Loy Hansen was widely lauded for the resources he put into the team. That made it one of the most viable in the NWSL, a league that has seen growing pains since it began in 2023.

Hansen’s commitment included largely financing this year’s NWSL Challenge Cup, which became the first team sporting event in the United States in the midst of the pandemic (Hansen noted in Monday’s announcement that it was approximately $900,000).

The team had the second-highest attendance figure in the NWSL and high profile players such as U.S. Women’s National Team stalwarts Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara and Spanish star Vero Boquete, but the team never contended.

In a letter to fans, URFC captain Amy Rodriguez, a former USWNT player, wrote in part, “Right now it seems as if there are no words and there is nothing I could say that will erase the hurt you are feeling. I know because I have felt it too. But I would be remiss if I did not take the time to share how much you all have meant to me, my family, and this team.”

Throughout Monday morning, numerous URFC players followed Rodriguez in expressing thanks for the opportunity they had to play in Utah.

In a statement, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said, “This is a tremendous opportunity for our league, and I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Kansas City back to the NWSL. Kansas City is a soccer-rich community, and this fantastic ownership group is ready and able to commit the resources necessary for this club to be a massive success. I’d also like to thank the fans in Utah for their incredible support of the NWSL.”

While Chris and Angie Long will be the principal owners of the Kansas City team (the franchise name will be announced at a later date), its ownership group will include Brittany Matthews, a former professional soccer player who is the fiancee of Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Huw Williams has been named head coach.