In 2021, the Spirit plans to play seven matches at 20,000-capacity Audi Field and five at Segra Field, United’s 5,000-seat venue that opened in August in Leesburg, Va.
No later than 2021, the Spirit will also relocate practices and daily functions to Leesburg, where United is constructing a 40,000-square-foot training complex near Segra Field.
United will provide a permanent locker room and office space for the Spirit at Audi Field, which opened in July 2018.
Both organizations said they did not want to comment. In recent months, however, they have spoken publicly — and enthusiastically — about forging stronger bonds and facilitating additional NWSL matches at Audi Field after two well-received games this summer.
One source, who like the others requested anonymity because the sides are preparing a formal announcement soon, said a few lingering issues remain but the agreement is essentially done.
The Spirit is owned by Steve Baldwin, a local software executive. Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan head United’s investment group.
Riding the momentum of the U.S. World Cup championship, the Spirit averaged 18,645 for Audi Field visits three weeks apart. A 2018 appearance drew almost 8,000. In 10 matches this season at SoccerPlex, the Spirit averaged about 3,600.
The top-drawing NWSL teams this season were the Portland Thorns (20,098), Utah Royals (10,774) and Washington (6,105). League attendance grew 23 percent this year, to an average of 7,386.
SoccerPlex’s history of hosting the local pro women’s team began in 2009, when the Washington Freedom played there for the three seasons of Women’s Professional Soccer, the NWSL’s predecessor.
Both the Freedom and Spirit struggled to broaden their appeal beyond a small but loyal fan base because of the location (Boyds is 17 miles outside the Beltway) and lack of public transportation options.
With the popularity of women’s soccer growing worldwide, Spirit officials believed they would benefit from playing more often in the city and that increased attendance and sponsorships would offset the cost of renting Audi Field.
They seemed to prefer splitting next year’s home schedule — and beyond — between Audi Field and SoccerPlex, which is much closer to the District than Segra Field (35 miles), accommodates 300 more spectators and has a grass playing surface. (Segra uses artificial turf.)
But United proposed a package deal in which the Spirit would play at both Audi Field and Segra Field, and eventually move its headquarters to Leesburg. It’s unclear whether United would have allowed the Spirit to play at Audi Field next year had it not agreed to the broader pact.
Because few fans are expected to travel from the District and close-in suburbs to Leesburg, the Spirit will have to build a fan base in Loudoun County and neighboring Fairfax County.
Loudoun’s population is 400,000, including 55,000 in Leesburg. Fairfax is home to 1.1 million. The two jurisdictions are among the wealthiest in the country.
Instead of full season-ticket packages, the Spirit will probably have to offer individual bundles for each venue. Fans could purchase one, two or all three.
United built Segra Field for its second-division developmental team, Loudoun United, which last month completed its inaugural season. With the first five home games at Audi Field while the new site was under construction and 12 in Leesburg crammed into the last three months of the season, the team averaged 1,391 fans.
Featuring its own World Cup players (Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh) as well as those on visiting teams, the Spirit should have an easier time selling tickets.