The evolution of American women’s professional soccer took a huge step forward with the regular-season debut of Angel City FC before a sellout crowd at Banc of California Stadium.
The end result was a 2-1 victory over the North Carolina Courage before 22,000 fans. Besides success on the pitch, Angel City is strong out of the gate as well, selling 15,400 season tickets and $35 million in contracted sponsorships, per the Los Angeles Times.
A strong debut out of the gate was inevitable, given the prospering women’s soccer scene in southern California, the powerful investors from entertainment and business behind the effort, and almost two years of pre-match publicity extended far past the sporting press. Angel City FC was founded by Academy Award-winning actor and activist Natalie Portman, technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media and gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, and tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian. Since then the ownership group has grown to nearly 100 investors–the largest female-led ownership group in pro sports history.
The team’s goal to transcend the play on the pitch and improve playing and financial conditions for women athletes—and accomplish that by a more professional and aggressive approach on the business side. Here’s an example from Fast Company:
The group coalesced around the idea that their undertaking was bigger than soccer. “We love soccer,” says Portman. “But we also have a secondary mission, which is to push forward the state of conditions for female athletes.” For Angel City, that has meant creating an ownership model that asks investors to act more like founders and engage with the team at every level. The club has also developed an industry-first sponsorship program to draw in brands that are not traditionally aligned with sports and is finding fresh ways to support its world-class players on and off the pitch….
Angel City is poised to play a key role. First, though, it needs to prove its business model. “I have the best athletes in the world playing a global sport in a city of champions,” says Uhrman. “We are going to build the club authentically, thinking about it as a brand.”
Now, given recent events in NWSL and women’s soccer, many things need to change. If you’ve been reading this site for the last several years, you know we’ve argued that given the rise of women’s soccer in the United States and the world, NWSL teams were undervalued assets and the entire women’s business structure needed to be overhauled. Since then we’ve seen new faces like Michele Kang enter ownership ranks. The new majority owner of the Washington Spirit has a business background as founder of a health-care technology company, but the sale of the team attracted bidders like Todd Boehly, an investor in the Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks who reportedly is new owner of Chelsea F.C. We have also seen USL launch the pre-professional USL W League for 2022 and the Division II USL Super League for 2023.
And we’re a little mystified that more MLS teams have not embraced the women’s game. Indeed, recently we’ve been hearing from MLS front-office types about the challenges facing teams, particularly on the venue side. The MLS regular season runs only 34 games, with 17 home games. Many MLS stadiums are built with the expectation of plenty of additional events, ranging from friendlies to concerts, but there are a limited number of those opportunities as well. Boosting schedules with NWSL matches seems to be no-brainer.
If Angel City FC continues to draw at this level, we’re likely to see some ripple effects on the NWSL venue front as well. Banc of California Stadium is a lovely facility, of course, but at the end of the day Angel City is still a secondary tenant. The Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers (MLS) share ownership and Providence Park in a situation that seems to work well for both. We currently have only one NWSL-specific stadium in development: last fall KC Current ownership unveiled plans for a $70-million privately financed riverfront facility–the first stadium purpose-built for NWSL. As NWSL growth continues, we’re likely to see more teams float their own purpose-built soccer stadiums.