The announcement comes on the heels of a number of newly named celebrity investors in NWSL teams.
By Annie Costabile Updated Mar 1, 2021, 2:15pm CST
Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands next to midfielder Vanessa Dibernardo who was celebrating her 100th NWSL appearance in 2019.Daniel Bartel/ISIPhotos.com
The Red Stars introduced a new, diverse investor group Monday morning headlined by Olympic gold medalist and Blackhawks development coach Kendall Coyne Schofield, former Bears defensive end Israel Idonije and award-winning journalist Sarah Spain.
The announcement comes on the heels of a number of newly named celebrity investors in NWSL teams. The Red Stars’ 14 new investors include industry leaders in entertainment, technology and business with ties to Chicago. Their goal is to continue developing a world-class environment reflective of the athletes playing for the Red Stars.
For Coyne Schofield and her husband, NFL unrestricted free agent Michael Schofield, their investment is deeply personal.
As a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which just embarked on its second Dream Gap Tour, Coyne Schofield is all too familiar with the lack of investment in women’s sports. Her involvement — like her career as a player, a broadcaster and a development coach — is to show women what’s possible.
Kendall Coyne Schofield addresses a group of young athletes before they break up into different groups at the PWHPA’s youth clinic at the United Center in 2019.Annie Costabile/Sun-Times
“As two professional athletes ourselves, we’ve had two very different experiences in the professional sports world,” Coyne Schofield said. “Our involvement is beyond capital. It’s about bringing awareness to the disparity between men’s and women’s professional sports.”
“Kendall is one of the hardest working athletes I know,” Schofield said. “Women’s sports don’t get the respect they deserve. By us investing in it, we hope that it helps grow the women’s game. And when I say the women’s game, I mean all of them.”
Coyne Schofield jokes that even though her life revolves around women’s sports and advocating for the sustainability of women’s professional sports leagues, women’s hockey more specifically, her husband might be the biggest women’s sports fan in their household.
Regardless, they’re hoping their investment will inspire others to invest in women’s sports when they see the difference it makes.
Before making their final decision, Coyne Schofield said she was fortunate to have a conversation with Spain. When she learned Spain was on board, along with other investors such as music executive Colleen Mares and entrepreneur Marie Tillman, it reinforced the reasons she wanted to be involved.
The Red Stars are the latest NWSL franchise to announce the addition of high-profile investors. In January, four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka joined the back-to-back championship-winning North Carolina Courage. After the news broke, founding and majority Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler texted the Sun-Times that the Red Stars spoke to the tennis star, too.
Most recently, the Washington Spirit introduced a group of more than 30 new investors, Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager among them.
Angel City FC, a 2022 expansion team, helped create this ripple effect with a jaw-dropping ownership group. The team’s dozens of investors include 23-time tennis Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and actress Natalie Portman.
Spain said she felt inspired by colleague and two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy’s ownership stake in Angel City FC. It didn’t occur to her that the Red Stars might be expanding their ownership group or that she would be approached by Whisler. She just knew she wanted to be an owner.
“At the ESPNW Summit, one of my panels was with Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle,” Spain said. “Abby talked in her book about if they don’t give you a seat at the table, screw pulling up a chair and build a new table. I think I kind of joked with [Julie] Foudy and Glennon and Abby, saying, ‘Well, I’m going to be an owner.’ ”
Spain began earnest conversations with Whisler in October. When she brought the idea to her financial advisor, she was told, “This is a perfect fit for you.”
When Whisler originally set out to expand the Red Stars’ capital base, he did it with a few goals in mind. He wanted to reflect the diversity of the organization’s fan base in its owners, to be able to attract global soccer stars and to secure the future success of the organization.
Chicago’s new ownership group was introduced to the media Monday afternoon. During the zoom press conference, Whisler said he expects fans to return to the stadium this season at 25% capacity. The Red Stars’ first home game will fall between May 15 and May 22, Whisler added.
The continuous growth across the NWSL from league sponsorships that include Budweiser, Twitch, Verizon and CBS, to team investors indicates the future of women’s soccer in the United States is bright. There is still a huge gap between women’s professional leagues and men’s from the obvious disparities in media coverage all the way, to pay and training environments.
Idonije addressed those differences saying he never could have imagined working multiple jobs in order to sustain his 11-year professional football career. A reality for many professional athletes in the NWSL and other professional women’s sports leagues.
“These are elite pro athletes, period,” Idonije said. “Everything they experience needs to be on that level, the same level that other pro athletes are experiencing in other leagues.”
Based on the revenue from attendance expectations for 2021, sponsorships, camps and clinics and merchandise the team has already added $500,000 in spending that can be put towards training environment, housing and front office hires.
As far as how this investor group alleviated the financial strain caused by the pandemic, Whisler said the first funds weren’t brought in until November. By that time, the organization had weathered much of the fallout without assistance other than the federal PPP loan it received for $127,924 last April.
What Whisler said this group gave was a commitment to the 2021 season and beyond and the team is not done adding to its new list of investors.
“There are more coming,” Whisler said.
The list of owners, which the team said is still developing:
· Jessie Becker
· Dean Egerter (founding member)
· Julie Haddon
· Israel Idonije
· Jordan Levin
· Abel Lezcano
· Colleen Mares
· Michael Raimondi
· Steve Ritchie (founding member)
· Kendall Coyne Schofield
· Michael Schofield
· Sarah Spain
· Marie Tillman
· Brian Walsh
· Arnim Whisler (founding member)
· Kevin Willer
· David M. Zapata