There are over twenty-five investors & owners of LA’s new Angel City Football Club (a whopping fourteen of whom are former US Women’s National Team players): ‘One of the 100 Most Creative People in Business’ Julie Uhrman, business venture capital extraordinaire and long-time activist Kara Nortman, Academy Award Winning actress and proud activist Natalie Portman, the winningest professional tennis player of all time Serena Williams, Hollywood staple Eva Longoria, award-winning TV star Uzo Aduba, groundbreaking entertainer and content creator Lilly Singh, US Women’s Soccer Team legends Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, New York Times bestselling author/celebrated speaker and activist Glennon Doyle. This list only names less than half of the immensely successful women behind Angel City.
‘Coming together, we’re naturally destined to be bigger than the game.’ A bold statement from an introductory Instagram post for the professional women’s soccer league team looking to start their National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) campaign in the 2022/23 season. Angel City will be the first professional women’s soccer team out of Los Angeles, a long overdue addition to the league many would argue. Why has it taken so long, and what does it mean for LA and indeed the NWSL? More importantly, how will it change the landscape of the women’s game in the US, the fight for equal pay for women in sport across the board, and the indelible mark women’s soccer will inevitably leave socially, culturally, and economically?
Women’s professional soccer in the United States in league format has had a tumultuous time despite the US Women’s National Team’s dominance for over a decade now. The current NWSL was previously named the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), which officially folded in 2013. Before that, the WUSA (Women’s United Soccer Association) operated for only two seasons before suspending operations after colossal estimated monetary losses. The US Women’s National Team’s win on home soil in front of record-breaking crowds during the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup inspired millions of young people. It led to soccer becoming the fastest growing sport for youth in the US. However, the professional league has faced continual financial difficulties and internal structural and organizational issues since its inception. Regardless of these struggles, they still boast the title – granted a subjective title – of the world’s best women’s pro soccer league.
The NWSL has seemingly stabilized financially, recently securing lucrative deals with ESPN and Budweiser. The relative success of the most recent iteration of the women’s professional soccer league in the US is primarily due to the success of the national team. People have gravitated to the team because of the players’ involvement in grassroots soccer, social activism, and the fight for equal pay. The most recent action taken by women’s national team players caused quite the cultural stir as the players filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. The demand was simple, ‘equal pay for equal play,’ but calling out the ingrained and institutionalized gender inequality in the soccer world ruffled many feathers. The team went on to win their fourth World Cup title in 2019, and the lawsuit was thrown out not a year later.
It is not only the national team players who have been using their platform to rally for gender equality and other human rights issues. The NWSL and it’s current teams have been actively serving their respective communities and the broader fight for equality for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and marginalized groups since their inception. Following in the footsteps of national team hero Megan Rapinoe, some players knelt during the national anthem as the Challenge Cup kicked off amidst worldwide protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Rapinoe decided to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality and police brutality in 2016. The NWSL’s Challenge Cup kicked off on June 27th marking the first professional team sport to return to play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Underdogs Houston Dash won the twenty-three game, one-off tournament. All players wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ warm-up t-shirts and armbands for the entirety of the competition. The organizers ensured the safety of all involved and that they did not remain silent regarding their stance on racial injustice.
Angel City can only add to the legacy of the NWSL. President Julie Uhrman made it clear that this team has been years in the making. LA boasts some of the best collegiate sports teams in the NCAA and nine professional teams in other sports. In an open letter, Uhrman asks, “isn’t it high time that we also have a women’s soccer team to rally behind?” Some may suggest it has taken a long time for LA to get a team up and running in the NWSL. Still, there is a reason beyond the red tape and complicated processes for the deliberate and drawn-out process. The team’s branding shows that their founders want to have an impact far beyond winning the league (though I’m confident they’ll give that their best shot). Getting it right is integral to the team’s survival financially – it’s critical to implement lasting change in women’s soccer, women’s sports, and the athletics world.
The women who have come together to create this club, this movement, hail from all different walks of life: actors, activists, ex-athletes, business owners, entrepreneurs – the list goes on.
And the team doesn’t even have any players yet. They’ve all invested time, money, and energy because they believe wholly in this cause. As a majority-women-owned club, this team’s potential both locally in Los Angeles and likely globally is monumental. It’s also not something the club is shying away from. It is being addressed and embraced from the get-go, Urhman goes on in her letter to say, “Our city deserves better. Sports fans deserve better. Players deserve better. And together, we will build something truly unique.” Urhman commits to community collaboration, a positive impact on the global soccer community, and creating ‘the ultimate fan experience.’ The goal is to create a collaborative, supportive, and action forward culture within this venture fighting for equality for women, for BIPOC, and for the LGBTQ+ community. Angel City could be massive in ensuring soccer, the NWSL, and female athletes have a lasting effect on the world. In the words of co-owner Natalie Portman, “this has the power to make tangible change for female athletes both in our community and in the professional sphere.” A change for women in the professional sphere can only lead to positive and powerful changes for women everywhere.