Angel City FC was announced almost two years ago, but the club’s inaugural NWSL regular season match was decades in the making. Boardroom was there to take it all in.
Angel City FC’s first-ever tifo said it all: “Un nuevo amanecer.” A new dawn.
The NWSL expansion club played its inaugural regular season match at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on Friday night. Angel City gave the sold-out crowd of 22,000 fans an exciting 2-1 victory over the North Carolina Courage.
The result itself was historic, but what makes Angel City so distinct is the innovation the club represents away from the pitch. The logo is fitting — a pink angel bursting with pride — because this organization has turned what most have assumed to this point to be mythical into a reality.
Los Angeles has had a professional women’s soccer club before. The Los Angeles Sol competed in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) over a decade ago. But women’s soccer in LA — women’s soccer anywhere — has never been done like this. So, of course, the NWSL signed its first CBA at Friday’s opener, which had been ratified in late January.
The most obvious proof, though, is in the front office. There is no single face of Angel City, and that’s the point. Angel City was unveiled in July 2020 by a majority female ownership group led by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman and venture capitalists Kara Nortman, Alexis Ohanian, and Julie Uhrman. And in the months since, the club brought on an overwhelming number of investors to bolster an already impressive ownership group.
Boardroom caught up with a handful of those involved to capture their whirlwind of emotions on a long-awaited night in Angel City.
Seeing this turnout in LA, what do you think it means for the future of women’s soccer?
“We’ve said for many years that it’s such [a source of] an untapped potential, and there’s so much upside to not just women’s soccer but women’s sports. And so, to see the interest in this team [and] to see how they’ve been able to mix, I think, purpose with profit and passion and all those things — community-based and all these things we love — has been very reaffirming. We’ve said for a long time that this is what it should look like, and this is the manifestation in this team.
“We’re thrilled as owners, being majority female-owned and led, and feel like it’s gonna be a great roadmap for others — not just women’s soccer teams but hopefully other sports.”
This ownership group, it’s also the entertainers. You have Jennifer [Garner], Natalie, Becky G. What is it about that aspect of the ownership group that’s important to you?
Well, I think it covers so many different silos. It’s not just athletes, it’s not just A-list Hollywood celebrities, it’s not just the tech industry. It’s not [just] venture capitalists. It’s all those things, [and] all these awesome women in these spaces. And we have men, too. Of course, we let men in, and great men [are] on the ownership group. But to have all those women from all those different silos sharing ideas. And when we get on Zoom calls together … it really is mind-blowing because you have all these amazing women from all these different industries that have done so well. They share their ideas and best practices and help with hiring and staffing and all those things that I think make this team so special.
What inspired you to be part of the organization?
“When I heard whispers that there was potentially a female soccer club being made in my hometown of Los Angeles, I was like, What do I need to do? Can I be an investor? Like, I wanna be a part of this, and I want to support in any way that I can. I think I was like, I can be an equipment assistant. I can be a water girl, whatever you want me to do. I can be a cheerleader. I want to do it all.
“I actually hunted down Julie, and I was like, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta get on the phone. I’ve got to know more of what’s going on here.’ Fast forward a little over two years later, and it’s real.”
What do you want LA to showcase to help change the game going forward?
“Someone said, “Wow, this is a really big moment for women in sports.” I said, “No, this is a really big moment for sports, in general.” For women in LA, but as well just our community. Growing up as a Chicana — which I’m very proud to be — you know, in Mexico, a big part of our culture is football. Soccer is a huge part of my childhood. I grew up playing … It’s a connection to our community. And so, I think for our community here, to see ourselves represented in every shape and form and to know that there’s opportunity out there for us, makes me really proud.”
What do you want folks in the entertainment industry to know about soccer and the game and what it can do?
“It’s more than a game. For me, growing up playing, it was the responsibility part of it. It was the teamwork that came with it. I think you look at LA, there’s two very different realities to LA. There’s what we see in the movies. And we think it’s glamour and it’s Hollywood. But it’s like, there’s also another side to LA. That is our truth, which is that we are living, breathing hustlers, and we put in the work and we grind. And you see that with our team.”
In what ways can we continue to support women’s soccer?
“It’s a reinvestment every single day. Spreading the word, bringing new people to the stadium, and watching this team on TV when they’re not playing at our home stadium. Finding ways to continue to grow the game.”
NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman
What does this moment mean to you and for the sport?
“I apologize. I’m a little choked up at the moment because I just heard Billie Jean King tell me that she’s been waiting for this moment for 50 years of her life — to prove to the world that women’s sports has a value proposition and to have the opportunity to be part of it, to lead the future of this sport, is such an honor. I feel so humbled. We just need everybody to show up.”
Why is LA the perfect place and now the perfect time to launch a team?
“I would argue the time is actually behind us. We are late to the game. Look at what’s happening overseas. There were 91,000 people who came to a women’s soccer game [in Barcelona at Camp Nou]. There is no reason why women’s soccer in this country cannot be competing with the major professional sports league. And this is the proof of concept. If anybody needed a proof of concept, it is here.”
Billie Jean King
What inspired you and also motivated you to be a part of this organization?
“Well, Ilana [Kloss] and I —my spouse and I — want to show our support and be part owners and show up. It’s like, you’ve gotta stand up and show up and really keep promoting it because just now people are starting to believe in women’s sports. It’s taken forever. I think women’s tennis, we’ve been very fortunate to do well, but for women’s soccer, Barcelona had over 91,000 people the other night. It’s starting to happen — that tipping point.
“We’re good for business. We’re [good] for community. It’s amazing what Angel City FC is gonna do for the community. So I hope everybody comes out, buys tickets, watches us. And also, get your children in sports. It’s really good. Sports teach you a lot of things. How to be a great team player, how to be resilient, how to bounce back and keep going. And also learn the business … [M]ost athletes don’t learn the business. I learned the business. I own things, and I want more and more women[in] ownership. It’s very important to me.”
How does tonight compare to what you originally imagined?
“I’m more excited even than I was before because now I’ve been talking to fans, [and] I’m seeing the crowds. You’re gonna have to ask me that question again after seeing what everyone else sees out on the pitch and actually seeing the energy coming off the pitch of a full arena and so many wonderful people who’ve worked so hard to get here. The two things that make me cry in life are Pixar movies and potentially Angel City. We’ll see where it goes, but I feel like it’s gonna be a pretty emotional time.”
LA turned out for this team. What does that say more broadly about the power and the momentum of women’s soccer?
“It’s a testament to the club. From day one, a priority was reaching out to the supporters’ groups — the ones who, when they were coming to LAFC matches were carrying signs that said ‘Bring the NWSL to LA.’ That image was part of what helped convince me to help bring this to fruition.
“And so, by starting from day one with an organic community drive to have this team exist, and then the team’s done a great job actually leaning into that, building the community out and that’s the beauty of sports, right? It’s not just a city attached to a brand in theory, and I think when it’s executed well, it’s an extension of the city itself. I think they’ve done an amazing job. I’ve spoken to a lot of supporters groups today from all parts of Los Angeles, and it’s very clear that this is a very, very real thing here.”
What do you think this means for the future of the sport?
“I’ve been around for so long that I have been here when LA did support a prior team, the Sol, back in the WPS days. And so, for a women’s professional soccer league [to be] back in LA, it’s a pivotal time. It’s a pivotal moment. But also the way that this team was put together with Natalie and Kara and Julie and Alexis, we have an opportunity to show what a group of powerful women collectively can do together.
“That symbolically, that’s what makes us so — I mean, everybody’s just like teeth smiles tonight because we know it’s not just a couple of years that it’s taken to get this team up and running. It’s the 20, 30, 40, 50 years before that every generation had to do their part. The Billie Jeans had to do their part. The Mia Hamms had to do their part. Every generation had to do their part so that we could get this opportunity. And then, when it came, we grabbed it.”
With that in mind, what motivated you or inspired you to be part of the organization?
“The most important thing to me in the way that I’m out in the world and what I’m talking about is representation. So, being a gay woman and knowing the way that they wanted to build this program from the ground up was by having diversity, be [at] the forefront. Not an afterthought; it was a forethought. And so for me, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of this. So that any person out there who is looking to do anything in their life can look to this team and say, “Oh, wow, look at those people. Look at what they were able to do.” And it took a long time. It’s not just the couple of years of building. It took a long time to get to the place that women soccer is now, so that the world could accept a majority [woman-]owned women’s professional team. It’s wonderful. It’s a beautiful night.”