Through the brand refresh over the offseason, as well as a re-tooling of the roster, Gotham FC is ready to extend its impact beyond just the NWSL.
Big things are happening at NJ/NY Gotham FC.
The NWSL club is coming off a statement 2-1 win over another squad dripping with talent in Angel City FC, arguably a contender for this year’s championship title. The opposition went up 1-0 early in the first half thanks to a screamer from this year’s No. 1 overall pick Alyssa Thompson in the 11th minute. The hoards of pink flags enthusiastically waving in unison from the sold-out BMO Stadium could have been a deterrent for Juan Carlos Amorós and Co., but by the final whistle, it was confirmed the visitors were heading back to the east coast with three points.
It may only be the first game, but the resilience from the Gotham side could foreshadow a season unlike 2022. The club sat last in the league standings last season and it was arguably years away from being a powerhouse franchise. Fast forward several months, and the offseason was time well spent determining what were Gotham’s primary objectives and who could help fulfill them. A culture shift was necessary for long-term success and senior vice president Jonna Valente feels a lack of accountability contributed to last season’s missteps.
“It’s about creating a culture of respect and recognizing that this team, from the front office to the field, it’s made up of human beings,” Valente explained to Boardroom. “These are people just like everyone else out here in this world who should be treated with respect, who deserve to have transparency and understanding of how their organization works, and should feel that they can trust the accountability that exists internally. So I think for us as a club, it’s communicating that in what we say and what we do.”
A surefire way to get on the winning side of things is to welcome the help of those who share the same goals. After finishing her last season as a pro following the 2021 campaign, three-time Olympic medalist Carli Lloyd joined Gotham’s ownership party in April 2022. A week later, 35V announced its minority investment in the club. After Sue Bird, Eli Manning, and Giants chief commercial officer Pete Guelli also signed on as minority owners, Gotham’s valuation soared to an estimated $40 million.
With the backing of some of the greats in sports, it was time to revamp the 25-woman roster. That responsibility mostly fell on Yael Averbach West, a retired soccer star herself who led the University of North Carolina to national titles in 2006 and 2008. The former US Women’s National Team player was named interim general manager and head of soccer operations for Gotham FC in 2021 but officially entered into the role four months later, becoming the first former women’s national team player to be named GM of an NWSL club.
The 2022 offseason also saw the introduction of the league’s first-ever free agency window. As a result of the historic collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NWSL Players Association, for the first time, players were able to experience the thrill of hearing offers from other teams. Setting the standard for future free agency periods to come, Gotham announced the arrival of veteran Kelley O’Hara. The defender returns after six years away, back when the franchise was called Sky Blue FC.
“It feels good to be back, you know?” O’Hara told Boardroom earlier this year. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I was here for so long and this really felt like home.’ So it’s a good internal feeling being back here.”
Gotham continued to beef up its talent with the addition of Lynn Williams, fourth overall pick Jenna Nighswonger, Sinead Farrelly, and Ali Krieger, who just announced she will retire at the end of the season after 17 years at the pro level. It’s a slow and steady operation, but the front desk acknowledged a shift is vital for long-term potential, and at the very least, being a trophy contender for Krieger’s final season.
Gotham’s Style Evolution
A second point Valente wanted to emphasize in Gotham’s renaissance was its cultural impact. Women’s sports — specifically women’s soccer — are being consumed at a more rapid pace these days. The NWSL is on the cusp of landing a broadcast deal and clubs across the country like the Kansas City Current are building facilities that cater specifically to the female athlete. Being in New York City, where fashion, entertainment, and art thrive, it was important to enlist the services of someone who understands how to catapult a club’s cultural significance from good to great.
Fresh off calling it a career in November 2022, Ashlyn Harris stayed on with the team as the Global Creative Director. Tasked with cementing Gotham FC as a stylish and indomitable side on and off the pitch, Harris told Boardroom how she plans on using her life experience to excel in this position.
“Well, interesting enough, a long time ago, I was playing behind Hope Solo and I knew that it would be very difficult for me to get playing time,” the two-time World Cup champion said. “And I started building out a brand and how you present yourself, the things you say and what you represent, like what’s your stance in the world was like a really big part of who I wanted to be moving forward. I really invested time into understanding what I wanted to stand for, what my family values would look like, and the wife I would be marrying. It pushed me to create an incredible life for myself, be an ambassador to speak on topics that matter for companies, and represent really incredible organizations.”
Outside of sports-centered initiatives, Harris and Krieger have advocated for those in the LGBTQIA+ community and spoken in defense of people of color. Harris specifically has been open about her mental health journey, teaming up with To Write Love on Her Arms on various projects. Inclusivity is a major part of the Gotham FC rebrand, and Valente plans to pay homage to New York in future activations.
“It’s the fashion capital of the world and we have a very unique opportunity to become synonymous with New York. We have to make it cool, we have to make it vibey,” said the White Hour alum. “We have to make it really within that energy of cool, and aspirational and also make it so our fans see that and feel like that represents them and what they are aspiring to be.
“And then the third thing is to make the business work. Because women’s sports are not a charity. It is a great business investment. I want to say like 80% of consumer spending worldwide is controlled by women and women are most likely to be fans of women’s sports. That’s a huge untapped opportunity right there from a business perspective and to do the things that we want to do in terms of building this brand, the business has to work.”
When asked why she decided to implement a strategy of incorporating Gotham into New York’s iconic and unique sports universe, Harris’s response couldn’t be more direct and heartfelt.
“I mean, this is the most vibrant city in the world. But also, it’s the hardest city to survive,” she said. “So you have to think differently, you have to be on the cutting edge of different. No one comes to New York to fit in. Everyone comes here with hopes and dreams of doing something that hasn’t been done before. It inspires me so much.
“I want to do that in women’s sports. It’s a huge part of my life. I want to put New York and Gotham on the map. I want it to be a place where the best players in the world say, ‘I want to be a part of that vision and brand and that’s why I’m here.’ I’m not here to waste time. I’m here to do things right. I see the potential in women’s sports in a market like New York and its endless possibilities. It just has to be done right and intentionally. And that’s where I come in.”
If You Build It, Fans Will Come
The business of NWSL is working. Following the opening weekend, the league announced a record 90,009 fan attendance to matches across the United States. In the nation’s capital, the 2021 champion Washington Spirit secured three points with a 1-0 win over the OL Reign in front of 11,281 fans at Audi Field, its highest-attended home opener in club history.
A positive game-day experience is essential to supporter retention, and Valente teased to Boardroom what fans can expect at every home game this season. A big part of it? Feeling like you’re entering another world with like-minded people, cheering and riled up to help Gotham FC win. Look forward to a pre-game fan fest and plenty of celebrity engagement, too.
The 11th edition of the NWSL still has 21 match weeks to go, but it this season has already been hailed as one of the best starts in the league’s history. However the season finishes for the club, it’s already apparent the new and improved NJ/NY Gotham FC has officially changed football for good in the northeast.
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