Is Los Angeles jonesing for the return of professional women’s soccer? Some high-profile and deep-pocketed Hollywood females backing Angel City Football Club, L.A.’s first women’s soccer team in 12 years, are about to find out. Cofounded by actress-activist Natalie Portman with venture capitalist Kara Nortman and tech entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, the club boasts an array of celebrity investors and pledges—besides fielding world-class players—to bring female empowerment to the game.
L.A. currently hosts two men’s major league soccer teams but hasn’t had a women’s team since the Los Angeles Sol folded in 2010. Nortman acknowledges the risks involved in reentering the space—“I’d say 95 percent of people tried to talk me out of it”—but credits Instagram with confirming her gut on the venture. “I can look at the followings of [soccer stars] Crystal Dunn and Alex Morgan and see people are really engaged,” she says.
Her instincts so far have been born out: Angel City calls the 25,000-seat Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park home and has already sold more than 14,000 tickets for this year’s 22-game season, which starts in May. Premium seating, including $50,000 box seats, sold out in three days. “L.A. deserves the team,” says Uhrman, like Nortman, a lifelong Angeleno. “This is the best sports market in the world. We have the best athletes in women’s soccer in the world.”
“We have the best athletes in women’s soccer in the world.”
Nortman and Portman, both soccer geeks, had met earlier to discuss sharing the resources of their respective gender-equality nonprofits, All Raise and the lately beleaguered TimesUp!, of which Portman is a founding member. Angel City was hatched after Portman texted Nortman following her appearance at a Women’s National Soccer League event in 2019. At the time, Nortman was advising WNSL in the lawsuit it had bought against the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay for women players. (The suit was settled in the WNSL’s favor in February for $24 million.)
“We should bring a team to L.A. together,” Portman told Nortman.
The idea had a lot to recommend it commercially. Women’s soccer in the U.S. actually generates more revenue than men’s. Financial statements from the USSF obtained by the Wall Street Journal revealed that from 2016 to 2018, women’s games took in $50.8 million while men’s generated $49.9 million, even though women players were paid substantially less.
The last FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in 2019 and won by the U.S. women’s national team, drew 14.3 million TV viewers in the U.S., 22 percent more than watched the men’s World Cup the year before and the most-watched soccer match, men’s or women’s, in the prior five years. Yet female World Cup winners draw a fraction of the prize money paid to men. In the 2018 World Cup, the winning men’s team, from France, was awarded $38 million; the winning women’s team, from Japan, took home $4 million. Finally, according to a 2019 Neilsen report, 54 percent of women’s soccer fans are male. “Watching my son, during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, idolizing Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe as much as Messi—that made all the difference to me,” Portman tweeted.
With Portman on board, Nortman recruited Uhrman, founder of gaming console company OUYA and her teammate on a women-in-tech basketball club, as Angel City’s president. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian signed on to lead fundraising. Women’s soccer icon Mia Hamm and two-time Olympic medalists and FIFA World Cup champions Lauren Cheney Holiday and Abby Wambach, along with actresses Eva Longoria, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Chastain, are among Angel City’s high-profile founding investors.
Eni Aluko, a 34-year-old World Cup veteran, joined as sports director in May and acknowledges the challenges the club will face. “The status quo is that expansion teams don’t do very well in their first year,” she says. “We want to break that.” She anticipates an energetic rivalry with the newly formed San Diego Wave Football Club, franchised six months after Angel City.
Aluko’s acquisitions include World Cup champion Christen Press, former Chicago Red Stars defender Julie Ertz, and coach Freya Coombe. The club incentivizes recruitment by offering one percent of the team’s net profits from ticket sales to players who allow their names and likenesses to be used on social media to drive attendance. “We’re trying to give the players a better, bigger platform than they could possibly get anywhere else,” Uhrman says.
Angel City’s founders seldom miss a chance to invoke the activist spirit of the club’s origins. Yes, it has partnered with the likes of DoorDash, Birdies, Sprouts Farmers Market, Nike, and Gatorade, but 10 percent of those and other sponsorship dollars will be donated to charitable programs ranging from providing financial resources for groups it considers marginalized to distributing complimentary sports gear and food to improving playing facilities. Before a single Angel City player has sunk her cleats onto a pitch, the club says, its largesse will have funded 75,000 meals to food-insecure families, 150 elementary-school gardens, and 15,000 sports bras.
But, ultimately, Angel City is no selfless nonprofit. “Everything we do is both to drive revenue and have an impact,” Uhrman says. “We’re going to put on a game-day experience unlike anything L.A. has ever seen.” The team is envisioned as only one incarnation of the brand: apps, merchandise, and media deals are in the works, including selling fractionalized pieces of the Angel City crest as NFTs.
“Sports are such a joyful way to bring people together,” Portman said at the club’s launch. “This has the power to make tangible change for female athletes.”
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