July 22, 2024

NWSL’s Portland Thorns sold to Kings investors Bhathal family

The Portland Thorns have been acquired by the Bhathal family, investors in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, the National Women’s Soccer League team announced Wednesday.

RAJ Sports purchased the team for $63 million, according to a person familiar with the deal. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

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Merritt Paulson, whose Peregrine Sports also owns Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, put the Thorns up for sale in late 2022 amid a series of abuse and misconduct scandals that rocked the NWSL.

The Bhathal family was part of the group that bought the Sacramento Kings in 2013. RAJ Sports is led by siblings Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, co-founders and partners in the Southern California-based firm Revitate, which specializes in sports, real estate and consumer brand investments.

The new owners plan to keep the team in Portland, and they will continue to play at Providence Park, the downtown stadium which also hosts the Timbers. The team will continue to train at the stadium until a new women’s practice facility is built.

Lisa Bhathal Merage will serve as controlling owner and will represent the team on the NWSL Board of Governors. Alex Bhathal will serve as an alternate on the board.

“As fans ourselves, and as seasoned sports and real estate operators, we believe in the future of Portland and the NWSL, and in the tremendous opportunity that surrounds this iconic team,” Bhathal Merage said in the statement. “I would like to thank Merritt Paulson for believing in our vision for this club and for all that he and the Thorns have done for the growth of the NWSL and women’s soccer in this country.”

The Thorns were among the eight original teams in the NWSL and won the league’s first championship in 2013. The team also won league titles in 2017 and 2022.

A pair of former Thorns players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, came forward in 2021 with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct involving Paul Riley, who coached the team from 2014-15.

Riley, who denied the allegations, was subsequently fired by the North Carolina Courage, where he had been coaching, and NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned in the wake of the allegations.

After a pair of investigations detailed widespread misconduct and mishandling of complaints across the league, two Thorns executives were dismissed in 2022. Paulson stepped down from his decision-making role with the club but there were persistent calls for him to sell the team and the Thorns were put up for sale in December 2022.

Paulson maintained he wanted to sell the Thorns to owners who would keep the team in Portland. There were multiple bids for the team.

The NWSL’s Board of Governors approved the sale last week.

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