Nine months after current Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler announced his intention to sell the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), a new ownership group lead by Laura Ricketts has announced that they have an agreement in principle to buy the club.
The team was a founding member of the Women’s Professional Soccer League and began play in 2009, and along with NY/NJ Gotham FC is one of two active clubs dating back to the founding of the WPSL.
Ricketts is a minority owner of the Chicago Sky of the Women’s National Basketball Association and is part of the family ownership group that purchased the Chicago Cubs in 2009. The heavily Chicago-based ownership group includes 11 people, 10 of whom are women, as well as the Engelhardt Family office. The most recognizable name outside of Ricketts may be Jennifer Pritzker, cousin to current Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker and Penny Pritzker, the former Secretary of Commerce.
Pressure built on Whisler to sell the club following revelations that he took no action after being informed that then-head coach Rory Dames engaged in verbal and emotionally abusive behavior towards players. The Yates Report, written by former attorney general Sally Yates who was hired to look into numerous allegations of inappropriate and abusive behavior at the Red Stars and other clubs in the league, found that Whisler was aware of but did not act upon a number of player complaints dating back to at least 2014.
According to the release, the ownership group hopes to complete the transaction, which still requires the agreement of the league’s Board of Governors, as soon as this month.
The new ownership group will have to navigate several challenges. Unless the team can turn around results on the pitch, the Red Stars streak of playoff appearances dating back to 2015 – the longest such run in league history – looks set to end as the club currently sit in 11th place, five points behind the San Diego Wave for the sixth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining in their season.
In addition to on-pitch issues, the club currently has the lowest average attendance in the NWSL, averaging just over 4,000 fans per game, well behind recent expansion clubs like the Wave or Angel City FC, who average nearly 20,000 fans per match.
The new ownership group, however, seems determined to change the team’s fortunes. “We wholeheartedly believe in and are excited about the future of the Red Stars and the NWSL,” Ricketts said. “There is unprecedented fan growth in women’s soccer globally, and we want to be a part of building on that momentum here in Chicago.”