The Presidio’s Main Parade Lawn in San Francisco was packed Saturday with soccer players, their families, investors and fans of all ages for “FC Day for the Bay,” a launch event for the much-anticipated return of women’s professional soccer to the Bay Area.
“For it to come to life, it’s surreal, honestly. We launched the team two months ago — it was an amazing moment. But for us to be able to launch our team name, our logo, our colors and to see it now … is the most amazing feeling in the world,” said Leslie Osborne.
Osborne was referring to Bay FC (Football Club), the new National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise and the first Bay Area team in the NWSL. She, along with former U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) members Brandi Chastain, Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner, are the founders of Bay FC and were behind the effort to bring women’s professional soccer back to the Bay Area.
Slaton, for one, looks forward to building a community that collectively supports her and her fellow founders’ mission.
“Part of today is a call to action for people to get involved, to show up, to buy tickets, to get merchandise, to flaunt their gear. And this is just the first step in a long line of things that are going to bring Bay FC together,” she said.
All four Bay FC founders, who have participated in the Olympics and FIFA Women’s World Cup, have local ties to the area. During their collegiate years, they played for Santa Clara University’s women’s soccer team, with Chastain also playing for University of California, Berkeley during her freshman year.
During the WUSA league heyday, Chastain was on the San Jose CyberRays; Osborne and Chastain later played on the WPS Bay Area team FC Gold Pride. Post-professional soccer career, Chastain became an assistant coach of her alma mater’s women’s soccer program. She, Osborne, Slaton and Wagner have had an ongoing presence in the Bay Area through the years, taking part in the local soccer community and in organizations that focus on women’s and girls’ sports participation, such as the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI). Now, they are seeing their years-in-the-making dream for a women’s pro team here come to fruition.
Osborne said, “This has been three years in the making, from the moment I called Aly, Danielle and Brandi and said, “We should do this.'”
Osborne described the addition of an NWSL Bay Area women’s professional soccer team as much needed, considering the presence and popularity of the sport here, from youth leagues to college soccer programs. She said, “It’s critical and it’s massive and it took a while, but we needed that time to really figure out the business model and have investors like Sixth Street be able to come in and make sure that this is successful.”
At Saturday’s event, Bay FC’s founders, investors such as Sixth Street Chief Executive Officer Alan Waxman, Golden State Warriors’ four-time champion Andre Iguodala and local politicians such as state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, touched upon the importance of Bay FC for the Bay Area in general and for women and girls in particular.
As San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan expressed while onstage, “Brandi, Danielle, Leslie and Aly have been inspiring fans and particularly young women for years – young women like my daughter Nina who’s 5 years old and is an avid soccer player. And I’m just so excited that she’s going to be able to grow up and cheer on a hometown team … that gives her strong, powerful, confident women role models to look up to.”
Bay FC investor, NWSL Board of Governors member and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg, who took the stage to introduce Osborne, Wagner, Chastain and Slaton, expressed her excitement about having a Bay Area women’s pro soccer team and joked about her own lack of soccer prowess.
Sandberg then emphasized the far-reaching effects of women’s sports: “[F]or all of us, this is much bigger and much more than soccer … Women’s sports are critical to creating the path the world needs for change. Girls who play today become women who lead tomorrow.”
After sharing the statistic that 80 percent of female executives played sports, she added, “Girls who fight to defend their goals become women who fight to defend their rights. Girls who calmly create an attack become women who are confident under pressure. And girls who work together to score goals become women who work together to achieve their goals.”
Chastain, Osborne, Slaton and Wagner — four barrier-breaking female athletes who united to achieve the shared goal of creating the first Bay Area NWSL team —were clear evidence of Sandberg’s statement Saturday.
“This investment says, ‘We believe in women, we believe in women’s sports, we believe in women’s soccer, and we believe in this community to drive change globally,'” Chastain said, giving thought to the overarching message behind the significance of Bay FC and the Bay Area return of women’s pro soccer.
She added, “I think everything underneath that is about giving these young girls a chance to come to a place that’s celebrating them and that wants them to be whoever it is that they’re going to be.”
For more information about Bay FC, visit https://bayfc.com.