The professional women’s soccer team that Gov. Phil Murphy owns was approved for nearly $150,000 in a forgivable federal loan last year from the coronavirus relief initiative that Congress rushed into law in the early days of the pandemic, records show.Sky Blue Women’s Soccer was among the nearly 156,000 entities across the state that received a total of more than $13.7 billion in forgivable loans meant for struggling businesses and nonprofits. The National Women’s Soccer League team — which has long been a money loser for the governor and his wife — was approved for $146,972.
The money was approved under the Paycheck Protection Program, passed to inject money into the economy and encourage employers to keep their workers off unemployment as life ground to a halt and the shutdown caused businesses to hemorrhage money and jobs.
Applicants were eligible for up to two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll costs, provided they certified that “current economic uncertainty” made the loan necessary, according to the rules. The program offered a big incentive: If the funds were spent on salaries and other business expenses such as rent and utilities, the debt will be forgiven — turning it into a grant.
The governor’s office on Monday deferred comment to the Sky Blue Women’s Soccer. “Like almost every other team in the NWSL, Sky Blue saw its plans for the 20-21 season dramatically altered due to the pandemic,” Ed Nalbandian, vice chair and owner of the team, said in a statement.
“Having just announced a new home arena, the team was unable to complete selling season tickets. While the income abruptly dropped, the team did not lay off staff, did not furlough and continued to pay salaries, housing, automobile leases, and rent while continuing to engage fans through social media,” he said. “The Federal PPP program grant went through the same application and review process as every other applicant impacted by COVID.”
Nalbandian did not say whether the team intends to repay the loan or whether it will ultimately be used as a grant.
Because the soccer team received just under $150,000, the loan was secret until last month, when the Small Business Administration released all the data after a lawsuit was filed by national news groups. Prior to that, with loans of less than $150,000, the exact amount was disclosed, but the recipient was not.
The team is co-owned by the governor and First Lady Tammy Murphy, who was named the club’s chair after they announced she would “take an active role in club activities” in 2019. The other co-owners are Steven Temares, former CEO of Bed Bath & Beyond, and Nalbandian.Sky Blue had garnered negative headlines at the time when former players reported the team’s playing and housing facilities were dismal, including practice fields without showers or laundry service, and rental houses with “plastic bags for windows.”
The couple had vowed improvements would be made.
Since then, Sky Blue has added upscale apartments for players, a revamped front office, and upgraded practice facilities. The team also began playing at Red Bull Arena in Harrison and made their league playoffs.
But the team, which was founded in 2008, has long been a money pit.
The Murphys lost $1.1 million on the franchise in 2019 — up from about $823,000 the year before. They have lost more than $7 million in the team since buying it, according to the couple’s tax returns.
Murphy said they bought Sky Blue FC, a professional women’s soccer, to provide a place for young girls to realize dreams of playing pro ball.
The Murphys made about $2.7 million in taxable income in 2019.The governor is a retired Goldman Sachs executive who amassed a fortune during his career there. They made $6.8 million in 2017 and averaged $5.8 million in the four years before that, according to a tax summary released by the governor’s office late last year. Murphy makes only a slice of his money — a taxpayer-funded salary of $175,000 — from his job as New Jersey’s governor.
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