It was fitting that a slight breeze hummed through the downtown Spokane core on Sunday afternoon as the city’s new women’s United Soccer League team was officially introduced as Spokane Zephyr FC.
Owners Katie and Ryan Harnetiaux stood alongside USL Super League president Amanda Vandervort for the announcement at the Davenport Grand hotel, with over 2,000 people in attendance to witness the historic event.
“Truthfully, it’s not just a name and a crest, it is a historic moment for women in sports,” Katie Harentiaux said. “It’s a historic moment for women, it’s a historic moment for Spokane. The fact that a professional team is coming to our city where we grew up, this is history in the making.
“I can’t believe that these 2,000 people get to see history being made.”
Zephyr means a “wind from the west,” and according to team officials, it conveys the power that is expected from the squad as they act as a force of change for the community and the country.
“We sometimes look at Spokane and we see youth, especially around new sports, outsourcing talent,” she said. “And we outsource talent to the West Side, we outsource talent all over. And really the impact here is that we will not outsource talent any longer.”
The team’s colors also were announced Sunday: impact blue, basalt, Palouse gold and cloud. Team officials said the combination of colors symbolizes the vibrancy, tenacity and grit of the club, as well as natural Northwest colors. And the blue pairs nicely with the men’s team colors by design.
“We really wanted to land on something that could intersect with velocity so that you could be a super soccer fan,” Katie Harnetiaux said.
With the Zephyr, Spokane is now home to every level of women’s soccer available in the country.
Instead of local players heading elsewhere to continue their soccer careers, both the USL Super League and the W League will help garner local and potentially international talent.
The club has been in early discussions with colleges in the area, extending general invites to players for their W league club, which will help extend pre-professional players’ seasons.
As for the USL Super Club team, they will be a Division I league. That makes the new Super League a direct competitor to the National Women’s Soccer League.
The NWSL and its 11 teams had previously been the only other Division I professional soccer option for women. The NSL adds eight more teams to that number.
Division I leagues have to meet eight standards laid down by U.S. Soccer to apply for the status.
Those standards range from market size to stadium capacity to financial guarantees.
The Harnetiauxs, whose Aequus Sports LLC owns the club, meet those standards, and reaffirmed their commitment to the Spokane community with the monumental Sunday.
They said the opportunity to bring a Division I club to Spokane was mind-blowing and a game changer during their initial discussions.
“Last year, 241 women put their name in for the NWSL draft,” Katie Harnetiaux said. “They drafted 41. So, 200 women didn’t have a place to play.”
“Plus another 25,000 who played college soccer just stopped,” Ryan Harnetiaux added.
They were determined to bring a women’s pro team to Spokane alongside the men’s team, which was confirmed as Spokane Velocity FC in July.
“We’ve been lucky, too, because that message around marketing, to women, specifically in sports, is growing at a really rapid pace,” Ryan Harnetiaux said. “Businesses are understanding that consumers, it’s important to them to support women’s sports equally.”
With the confirmation of the crest, the club’s name and colors, the Super League Zephyr will kick off their inaugural season in August 2024.
The W League team will play a 10-week season beginning in June 2024.
The Zephyr name came from six months of secret discussions in the Harnetiaux household, and the club expects Spokane residents to be proud of it over time.
When the initial eight teams were announced, Katie Harnetiaux saw a lot of East Coast teams that would be in direct competition for a championship banner.
“Anybody who’s grown up here, in the Palouse, it’s windy,” she said. “You’re in Spokane, it’s windy, you go drive to the West Side and you pass the wind farms. Wind is something that’s so innate, and you know it when it’s there. And so, when I thought about Zephyr and I thought about this name, and I thought about these young girls and older women and people just standing there and rallying around something.”
“We’re going to go win, we’re here and you’re going to know we’re here,” Katie Harnetiaux said.
Ryan Harnetiaux reiterated the power of the name, but also signified how wind is the symbol of change.
The Harnetiauxs’ investment in professional soccer in Spokane extends beyond the clubs into the stadium that will house the teams.
ONE Spokane Stadium was built in mind to be an investment into a women’s soccer club.
Katie Harnetiaux mentioned previous reports she had heard of women’s teams having smaller locker rooms off to the sides from their male counterparts and athletes having to change in portable toilets.
She said other coaches and players who have walked through ONE Spokane Stadium took notice and said the facility is better than other facilities women are playing in along the West Coast.
“As a woman and a woman in business and a woman in sports, that should be the expectation, not just a nice thing to have,” she said. “When these people come to play, I want them to feel like they are professionals.”
Ryan Harnetiaux said a man who has worked with the U.S. Soccer Federation for 18 years was in Spokane a few weeks ago to meet with the Harnetiauxs on approving the stadium for Division I use.
“We have a better facility than almost every team in the USL Championship League,” Ryan Harnetiaux said. “The city is going to be really proud to showcase this. We’re really proud to have the club invest four million bucks into this thing to make it what it is.”
“These professional players, they are moving to your city, they’re coming to live in your community, and we should treat them like they should be treated,” Katie Harentiaux said.
To be one of the first to see these professionals, season -ticket deposits are available now for $25 on the newly launched website, spokanezephyrfc.com.
Six deposits will be allowed per account.
When the men’s team was announced, 3,900 season tickets were sold and locked in, with another 1,100 on the waitlist.
The same is expected for the women’s team.
Fans will also be able to watch every game on TV, as media rights deals will be announced in the coming months.
“There’s an announcement coming next week on a USL Championship and League One media deal,” Ryan Harnetiaux said. “USL is in its last 10 days right now of their previous media deal. That’s done at the end of the championship league playoff game next weekend. The women’s side will flush that out in the first part of 2024.”
Games will be broadcast via a streaming service and locally on one of the TV stations.
For major networks such as ESPN or Prime Video to be able to broadcast out of the stadium, the lighting had to reach a certain threshold – 125 candle power compared to a standard 50-candle limit – which ONE Spokane Stadium meets after a $400,000 investment.
“The club paid for the upgrades … that’s why it looks like it’s daylight in there when you are in there; it’s really neat to see it,” Ryan Harnetiaux said.