PALO ALTO, Calif. – On a bright June Saturday, the National Women’s Soccer League’s newest expansion team hosted a launch day in San Francisco to introduce locals to Bay FC.
The club expected 500 to 1,000 people to attend. Five thousand showed.
“I just remember being like, holy moly, we have arrived,” recalled Bay FC co-founder Danielle Slaton.
The Bay Area is home to a few of the most iconic championship sports teams in the world. The Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Athletics.
But for a region that boasts such rich sports history, there hasn’t been a single active professional women’s sports team in over a decade. Bay FC will be the first, followed shortly by a new WNBA team in 2025.
Bay FC has signed six players to wear the team’s colors of navy blue, poppy red and fog gray–Kansas City’s Alex Loera, Houston’s Caprice Dydasco, Washington’s Dorian Bailey, Portland’s Emily Menges, Gotham’s Ellie Jean, and Angel City’s Scarlett Camberos.
On Dec. 15, the team selected five players in the 2024 NWSL Expansion Draft: Alyssa Malonson, Tess Boade, Katelyn Rowland, Rachel Hill and Sierra Enge.
A second draft will occur on Jan. 8 at the 2024 NWSL Draft, where all teams will participate in selecting players from colleges across the nation.
Bay FC will kick off its inaugural season in March 2024.
Many are excited to see this newly formed team take the field at PayPal Park in San Jose.
“I bought season tickets. I’m going to make every effort to support,” said Brianna “Bre” Russell, the founder and CEO of Girls Leading Goals, a San Francisco based organization that trains young women in leadership through soccer.
For Russell, Bay FC not only shows young players–and their parents–that there’s a place for them after college, it also helps people to think about sports in a new light when it comes to career development.
“You don’t have to just be an athlete to be in sports as a long-term career,” Russell said. “I mean, I don’t play anymore. And I didn’t play professionally. But I started an organization that revolves around this sport that I love.”
Bay FC was founded by four soccer icons who did just that. They built a club in the place they call home for the sport they grew up loving. Danielle Slaton, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Brandi Chastain have each had decorated careers in professional women’s soccer.
Slaton and Wagner grew up playing soccer together in the Bay Area. They both attended Santa Clara University, where they won a national championship with fellow co-founder Osborne in 2001. Chastain is also a Bay Area native, who played at the collegiate level for UC Berkeley and Santa Clara.
After college, Slaton played professional soccer, which included representing the U.S. Women’s National Team for five years–earning a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games and a bronze medal at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Wagner is a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup bronze medalist, 2002 Mac Hermann Trophy winner and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Osborne was part of the USWNT squad that won bronze at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and played professionally for nine seasons, serving as a team captain for all of her WPS and NWSL teams.
Chastain has won two FIFA Women’s World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal and the WUSA Championship.
For the four founders of Bay FC, the idea came in 2020 amid the pandemic when Angel City FC announced they were launching a team in Los Angeles.
“Leslie brought the four of us together and was like, what the heck, how did we not hear about this?” Slaton recalled.
For the founders, some of the names attached to Angel City FC were former teammates.
“[We] had a little bit of FOMO for one second and then thought, wait, well, if they do that down there, why couldn’t we do that up here?” Slaton said.
The opportunity to create Bay FC was unexpected for Slaton. Amid the chaos of the pandemic and the unrest following George Floyd’s murder, there was a lot of pausing and reflecting on life for Slaton. She started to realize she could do more than just play soccer–that she could help build something bigger.
“There’s not a lot of times in life when you have these ‘aha’ moments, but I really would put that into one of those rare occasions,” she said.
The process of creating Bay FC has been a whirlwind journey. From the beginning, people were banding together to support making the team a reality. Early investors in Bay FC led to the club eventually finding its biggest financial backer–Sixth Street, a San Francisco-based global investment firm. They are the main investor of Bay FC and have contributed the largest institutional investment ever made in professional women’s sports. Sixth Street committed $125 million to buy the NWSL club, with $53 million covering the expansion fee.
Alan Waxman, the co-founder and CEO of Sixth Street, is currently the co-chair on the board of Bay FC alongside Wagner.
Once the funding was nailed down, the club built an executive roster.
Lisa Goodwin-Scharff serves as the external vice president of communications and government Affairs for Bay FC. Goodwin-Scharff is a Bay Area native whose past includes working for the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco 49ers.
Growing up in the region, she loved the opportunity to attend so many different professional men’s sporting events. But she’s excited to switch things up and be able to work for a women’s professional sports team.
“I didn’t have the chance to cheer on professional female athletes when I was younger,” Goodwin-Scharff said. “I have a one and a half year old little boy, so I’m excited to bring him to both men’s and women’s games now in the Bay Area, and that he can get to experience both.”
For Goodwin-Scharff, Bay FC is special. While nonprofits and social efforts for women’s sports are necessary, this club goes a step beyond.
“It is a true business…[We] are not just going to create an incredible club, but help people see that there is a market here [in women’s sports] with corporate partnership dollars, with TV broadcast media rights dollars,” Goodwin-Scharff said.
Slaton also acknowledges how far Bay FC has come.
“In many ways, three years ago, we were very much a startup,” she said. But now, with solid financial funding and a strong executive team, Bay FC is gearing up for its inaugural season.
“When things are crazy and when things are tough, I just keep in my head playing the loop of our first home game,” said Slaton. She smiles and paints a picture of fans cheering in the stands, drums banging in the speakers, and players wearing Bay FC colors on the pitch. Knowing that people of all ages will get to see these women perform fills Slaton with pride. “I think about that at least once a day.”