With two NWSL clubs still currently for sale, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said on Friday that the teams — the Portland Thorns and OL Reign — maintain its votes in the NWSL Board of Governors while in the midst of its respective sale processes.
“Until a team is sold, the incumbent ownership group, of course, retains all rights and obligations on behalf of their franchise. So from a governance perspective, the expectation is that they will continue to operate in the ordinary course of business. So it’s really business as usual, from the Reign perspective,” Berman said. “From a Portland perspective, obviously that situation is unique because we carry forward the aftermath of Merritt (Paulson) having stepped off the Board of Governors, and that continues to be true.”
On Friday’s media call ahead of the NWSL Challenge Cup final, Berman declined to name Portland’s representative on the board: “I actually don’t know if I’m permitted to share who represents teams on our board, so I’m going to decline to answer.”
Currently, the club’s CEO Heather Davis holds one of the team’s seats, according to multiple league sources with knowledge of the board’s makeup. Each NWSL club can have two representatives, a governor and an alternate, but an alternate is not required.
“Portland has been represented by their alternate governor since Merritt stepped down from his role with the Thorns,” an NWSL spokesperson told The Athletic following Berman’s news conference.
Last October, Paulson pledged to remove himself from all Thorns-related decision making until the release of the report from the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation. Paulson committed to selling the team last year, following reports issued by the independent investigation led by Sally Q. Yates and the NWSL/NWSLPA joint investigation into misconduct across the league. Paulson also committed $1 million to establish a new player safety office at the NWSL in that same statement, though in January the league’s front office positioned that financial contribution as a financial sanction against the Thorns as a club.
Portland Thorns FC remains for sale, nine months later. “Those processes are underway,” Berman said on Friday, with both the Thorns and OL Reign meeting a preliminary deadline this week for their respective sale processes.
OL Groupe announced its intent to sell the Reign in April, following John Textor’s takeover of the French club last year. Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang purchased Olympique Lyonnais Féminin in May, as part of her plan to form a global multi-club organization. Sophie Sauvage, the head of international women’s football at Lyon, serves as the club’s governor on the league’s board.
“Both have achieved multiple bidders being interested and we still expect for both of those transactions to close by the end of the calendar year,” Berman said. “We continue to work very closely with the incumbent owners both in Portland and in Seattle to ensure that the new ownership group meets the standards and criteria for the league.”
Berman also addressed expansion on Friday.
“As we think about Q4 of 2023, we will be starting our next expansion process. It will be the similar process to what we launched when I first began about a year and a half ago. We will apply similar filters in terms of what our priorities are in thinking about how we select the right expansion market.”
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)