Our Turn: Sports Organizations Building Venues Designed for Women Athletes

Kansas City soccer stadium is the first of its kind in the world

Ginny Gilder remembers waiting on a bus, cold and wet, during the winter of her freshman season on the women’s crew team at Yale.

Because there were no women’s showers in the boathouse on the Housatonic in Derby, the women waited while the men showered after practice. Then both teams would travel the 25 minutes back to New Haven, where only one dining hall stayed open late enough for them to eat dinner. So the women’s crew team had to wait until after dinner before they could shower – usually an hour or more after practice ended. 

Gilder went on to earn a silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A., and is now co-owner of the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. She joined Jennifer Epstein, controlling partner of Boston Unity Soccer Partners and Nikki Fargas, president of the Las Vegas Aces for a Jan. 31 Sports Business Journal panel titled “Built for Her: Funding, Designing & Constructing Women’s Sports Venues.” 

Female athletes have come a long way since Gilder was at Yale. The first stadium for a women’s professional sports team to be built in the world, CPKC Stadium, the new home of the NWSL Kansas City Current, will open later this year. 

‘It’s about business.’

College and professional women’s sports have caught the spotlight, and the money is now following, said Gilder. “Frankly this is about business,” she said. “We’re just now seeing the impact of Title IX hitting the business world, because interest is growing in women’s sports.” 

Title IX, the landmark federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government, and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 highlighted the need for equity in America, Gilder said. 

Also, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many media outlets used women’s sports to fill in content holes, she said. As a result, investors are flocking to women’s sports as the “next new thing,” she said. 

‘Landscape has changed.’

“The landscape has changed to a level that justifies investment in a stadium anchored by a women’s sports franchise,” said Epstein. “Kansas City shows that.” 

It also opens up pathways for additional revenue generating opportunities for the team, including venue sponsorships, concessions, parking, and other streams, “things that historically were available only to men’s teams,” she said. “If you can meet attendance thresholds, you can justify facilities for women’s sports.” 

KC has already sold out the stadium for 2024. “They’re capitalization on attendance records, investing and building and paving the way for another stadium to be built specifically for women,” Epstein said.  

Boston White Stadium

Epstein founded Juno Equity, and she and her family are co-owners and managing partners of the Boston Celtics. She leads a group of six women — Boston Unity Soccer Players — who are getting Boston to rejoin the NWSL, with the goal of updating Boston’s White Stadium for the squad’s use as soon as the 2026 NWSL season.

Fargas said it’s great to work in Las Vegas with an owner like Mark Davis and see women leaders in a field like construction – which is rare – who are already thinking, “Let’s make sure we give these women the best facilities to practice in and compete in.” 

Builders are mindful of elements like security and personal protection — including things such as where players park and how they enter the building. They’re incorporating family lounges and nurseries in the stadium designs. In the past, having a child could end a season, or a career, the panelists noted.

And they’re asking female athletes what they want. “If you had a magic wand, what would you ask for?” Fargas said.  

Now about pay

Title IX initially was about women participating in sports. Now it’s moved to compensation, she said. 

Gilder said Seattle has a long history of being involved in the push for social change. The Seattle Storm rolled out “Force4Change” and is engaging with businesses owned by blacks, women and LGBTQ+ people. 

Epstein said the revamped Boston White Stadium is not just about “Building for Her,” but “Building for Them,” as it’s also going to be the home for students in local public schools. “And we’re ensuring the benefits will go to the surrounding communities.” 

‘Women writing checks.’

“It’s an incredible time for women’s sports,” she said. “We are definitely seeing a rise in businesses interested in investing in women’s sports. And many are women – the NWSL recent transactions are reflecting that. It’s exciting for women to be writing the checks, the level of those checks is still smaller, but it’s allowing more women investors to get involved.” 

“Women investors show a lot of innovation and creative solutions,” she said. “And we have a female commissioner, Jessica Berman, who is driving the league to new and very successful places. Let women pave the way.” 

You don’t need everybody to be a fan, you need 10,000 – 15,000, Gilder said. 

“You wouldn’t want to put an NWSL team where you are trying to go and push the culture forward,” she said. “Women’s sports have been on the vanguard of that for years. You want to go where you have that cultural fit already.” 

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Tripp Baltz
Head of Research