FC Kansas City

Announcement of new team in Salt Lake means women’s pro soccer is likely done in KC

FC Kansas City’s Shea Groom heads the ball away from the goal during a match at Swope Soccer Village.
FC Kansas City’s Shea Groom heads the ball away from the goal during a match at Swope Soccer Village. skeyser@kcstar.com

Real Salt Lake has officially acquired a National Women’s Soccer League franchise for the 2018 season, meaning the FC Kansas City women’s pro soccer franchise is likely no more.

Sources told The Star this week that FCKC would either fold or relocate.

The league did not address FC Kansas City’s status on Thursday, but NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy said during a news conference at Real Salt Lake’s facility that the league is not expanding to 11 teams. The NWSL has been a 10-team league since 2016, when it added the Orlando Pride.

“We will have 10 teams next year,” she said. “We’re excited about entering the sixth season of the longest-standing women’s professional league and going in with 10 teams, bringing in a new ownership. Going into the 2018 season, it’s important for us the quality of the ownership, the quality of the facilities and the resources.”

If FCKC relocates or folds as expected, it would mark the end of a club that enjoyed success in the form of back-to-back championships before spiraling downward in the last year.

Controversy rocked FCKC’s foundation late last summer when sexually suggestive emails allegedly sent by some members of the previous ownership group — which included Chris Likens, his sons Brad and Greg, and Brian Budzinski — were released to the public. The league said it was unable to verify the authenticity of the emails, but FCKC was sold shortly thereafter.

The changes opened the door for Elam Baer, the founder and CEO of North Central Equity in Minneapolis, to purchase the team in January. He did not comment on the team’s future in Kansas City when reached by The Star this week.

FCKC floundered on the field in 2017, staggering to an 8-9-7 record and a seventh-place finish, and rumors swirled about the team’s lack of resources. Someone familiar with the situation told The Star there was “some truth” to that speculation.

When asked Thursday if the Real Salt Lake franchise would assume FC Kansas City’s roster, which features such high-profile players as Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney Leroux Dwyer, RSL general manager Craig Waibel said he did not know.

“I’m not sure if we’re actually assuming a team at this point or what’s going on,” he said. “But we’ll be building the roster and I’ll be the head of building the roster (and staff).”

Soccer freelancer Caitlin Murray, formerly of Fox Sports, tweeted the following Thursday afternoon: “KC source tells me all FC Kansas City players under contract were told this morning that tentatively Real Salt Lake will honor their contracts with FC Kansas City. #NWSL”

Real Salt Lake executives said Thursday that they were presented the opportunity to field a team for the 2018 season two weeks ago. They said they will reveal the name of the team and its logo in coming weeks.

“This team will be treated as well or better than Real Salt Lake,” Carroll said. “They will play in the best locker rooms, they will play on the best fields, they will play in the best stadiums in North America, as far as we’re concerned.”

When Baer, the new FCKC owner, was reached this month and asked to discuss the state of the team with regards to its future in Kansas City, he said he could not comment. He told The Star in January that he did not intend to move the club, which averaged 3,162 fans per game in 2016.

“When you look at the enormous on-field success this team has had, I don’t see any reason why I would go in there and make a lot of changes,” Baer said. “The bottom line is we need to sell more tickets and get more sponsorship revenue.”

The club announced a total attendance of 31,624 last year. That figure dropped nearly 30 percent to 21,456 this season. FCKC’s average announced attendance was also down sharply, to 1,788 for 12 home games. The league overall saw a 9 percent dip in attendance figures per game in 2017.

While Real Salt Lake was eager Thursday to be acquiring a new women’s team, Sporting Kansas City was not interested in purchasing FC Kansas City, sources told The Star. The U.S. Soccer Federation approached Sporting KC about that possibility on multiple occasions, including when FCKC changed ownership nearly a year ago. U.S. Soccer, which runs the NWSL, has long sought such MLS partnerships — if not identical ownership groups — for its women’s clubs to offer them some stability.

Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen had expressed interest in acquiring an NWSL franchise when the league expanded in 2016.