Joining a growing list of NWSL clubs, the Chicago Red Stars have announced additions to their ownership group. For years, the Red Stars’ primary owner was Chicago businessman Arnim Whisler, but today they announced they were adding a large group of owners spanning athletes, journalists, and business owners. If this announcement sounds familiar, it’s probably because it follows announcements from the Washington Spirit and Angel City using a similar investor group model. And of course there’s the extremely prominent addition of Naomi Osaka as a part owner of the North Carolina Courage.
The list so far:
- Jessie Becker - Impossible Foods marketing SVP
- Dean Egerter (founding member) - Harrison Street Real Estate Capital senior advisor
- Julie Haddon - NFL global brand and consumer marketing SVP
- Israel Idonije - former Chicago Bears defensive end
- Jordan Levin - Rooster Teeth, general manager
- Abel Lezcano - Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finnkelstein & Lezcano, partner
- Colleen Mares - music executive, manager for Chance The Rapper
- Michael Raimondi
- Steve Ritchie (founding member)
- Kendall Coyne Schofield - USA Hockey Olympic gold medalist
- Michael Schofield - Carolina Panthers offensive guard
- Sarah Spain - ESPN reporter
- Marie Tillman - entrepreneur, Pat Tillman Foundation founder and chairman
- Brian Walsh - The Walsh Group real estate investment managing director
- Arnim Whisler (founding member)
- Kevin Willer - Chicago Ventures partner
- David M. Zapata - Zapwater Communications, Inc. CEO
In their announcement, the Red Stars said “we are not finished yet, additional discussions are underway.” In a press conference after the announcement, Whisler and various members of the ownership group dropped more information on the new arrangement, as well as clues about what the 2021 NWSL season will look for Chicago.
“Without too much detail, we’ve already secured multiple years of capital at anything like the planned losses that we think we need to incur,” said Whisler. “We do have room left in the fundraise, and we left some room for folks that we’re still talking to, and that that might be interested by this. So we are going to raise more than we have a finite amount, and we’re nearly done. But we’re in great shape.”
The economic slowdown during COVID but the brakes on a lot of planned changes, Whisler said, but now with the addition of investors, they would be able to increase the pace of hiring in the front office and be more aggressive about rebranding the stadium, as well as accelerating other issues. He said they put “another half million in spending” into the training environment, upgrading housing, hiring more front office staff, including three more sales positions, marketing, and brand building. In addition to upgrading housing, Chicago is looking to also beef up their support in managing logistics for players. Whisler said that Israel Idonije helped convince him that he needed to invest in more resources to help players transition in and out of the team, particularly if they had been used to a certain level of support in college, to allow them keep as much focus as possible on playing.
Whisler also said that while the team hoped eventually for a full sellout of their stadium at 20,000 seats, as it stands, under state and city COVID restrictions they might be able to open at 25% capacity, and that if they filled all 5,000 of those allowed seats, they would hit breakeven given certain conditions were met in other areas such as sponsorship.
“We’re going to make sure that if it’s not safe, there will be no fans,” said Whisler. “However, we think the trends our first home game is going to be on or about - and I’m not trying to break news here - it’s gonna be on or about May 15 or May 22. That’s a lot of time. And with the way that Chicago and the state have managed down the infection rate it’s highly plausible will be at 25% or greater in our outdoor sports stadiums by then. So we are expecting fans. We’re fully planning all of the protocols and various no fan scenario, which we’ll probably do in the Challenge Cup, 25%, 50%, etc. and make sure that in all cases, even if we’re fully open, that we have a section that is safe for immunocompromised people that just want to have a safer environment.”
“I think it’s a way to continue to improve, advance, the awareness of women’s sports, women’s soccer,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield. “It’s an opportunity to continue to improve the conditions. Coming from hockey, I think women’s soccer is 20 years ahead of hockey. So I look forward to learning a lot from this ownership group, I look forward to taking some of the things I learned and applying it to hockey, but ultimately, using my voice to ensure that you know, the players are getting the best experience possible. Given the fact that I am still playing, I am coaching, I am broadcasting, I’m wearing many different hats. So I want to try and apply those in this new role as an owner.”
“A lot of folks out there didn’t think I was going to make it in the NFL,” said Idonije. “And grit, grind, a lot of support, love, and people just like jumping on board with helping me develop was why I was able to play in the league 11 years. So I see so many parallels with one just this incredible opportunity in our city here.”
“One of the things that I think is most important about the diversity of ownership that has arrived is that I would like to think that the players feel like they could come to any of us,” said Sarah Spain. “And that’s not that they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to Arnim, but maybe they are more comfortable talking to a woman or a person of color, or an LGBTQ+ person. And if that’s the case, I’m so thankful that they’ll feel like at the very highest level of the team and someone who has access to the people with the most importance and the most ability to make change, that they’ll feel like they have a direct line to that.”