Utah Royals returning with rebrand under new part owner Ryan Smith

Mar 12, 2023, 11:05 AM
FILE (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)...
FILE (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

SANDY, Utah — When Utah Jazz owner and Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith was announced as the new part owner of Real Salt Lake in January 2022, he talked about the priority to bring the Utah Royals back to the state. It was a matter of “when, not if.”

The “when” has finally arrived.

The National Women’s Soccer League announced on Saturday the return of the Royals to Utah as an expansion team that will begin in the 2024 season. The reveal was made at America First Field in Sandy, the past, current and future home of both RSL and the Royals.

Utah Soccer LLC will be the parent of both clubs, with partners that include Smith, current RSL part owner David Blitzer, Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman and Philadelphia 76ers executive Daryl Morey, according to Sportico.

RSL general counsel Michelle Hyncik, who was announced as the new president of the Royals, will lead the charge into a new era of women’s soccer in Utah that includes a new look for the club’s logo and other brand elements. Hyncik played collegiate soccer at Harvard and has worked on the legal side of MLS since 2015 after graduating from Columbia Law School.

“When we came into soccer, for me, it’s been really about community,” Smith said. “This is about our responsibility in the state of Utah to do everything we can to bring people together and also give all the young kids something to strive for. If you look at the Junior Jazz program, if you look at soccer, those are actually two sports for children in Utah that everyone plays.”

Smith pointed to the influence the Royals can have on the younger generation, particularly young girls, as another reason to invest in women’s soccer in the state.

“To be able to have every little girl be able to look up and say, ‘Hey, that’s what I can become,’ and then have someone like Michelle that they can look up to, it’s real,” Smith said. “And especially as you look at different demographics of individuals that we can attract, this is just the next step.”

The Royals’ return will be Utah’s second shot at an NWSL expansion team, after the first opportunity lasted only from 2017-20. On Dec. 7, 2020, the NWSL announced that the Royals would cease operations and their player-related assets transferred to the expansion Kansas City NWSL team, now known as the Kansas City Current.

The new owners of Utah Soccer LLC — after Dell Loy Hansen — held the option to bring back the club in 2023. A year after beginning those discussions with the NWSL, Smith and Blitzer were able to bring the team back right on schedule.

The head coach and players have yet to be announced for the new Royals team, but Hycnik said the club is “definitely negotiating with a world-class coach” and will “hopefully have some more good news to unveil on that front soon.”

Previous head coach Laura Harvey is now the head coach of the NWSL’s OL Reign, and the team’s former stars are spread across the league’s 12 teams — four of which joined after the Royals left Utah.

“It took time to build in the three World Cup-type players (before); we’re not starting there,” Smith said, alluding to USWNT stars Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, who were part of the previous Royals iteration. But Hyncik said the team “would love to sign some players that are playing in the World Cup (this summer).”

The club plans to host several community events in the coming months, such as meet-and-greet opportunities with the new head coach, and watch parties for the women’s World Cup that begins on July 20.

“I think we have a really unique moment in time to have this be so community-focused this next year,” Hyncik said. “Because we won’t be having games, and so everything is going to revolve around our community events and having them be a part of the team.”

Hyncik announced stadium sponsor America First Credit Union as the first front jersey sponsor for the Utah Royals.

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Utah Royals returning with rebrand under new part owner Ryan Smith