A minority stake in the newly awarded NWSL expansion club in Boston is Monarch’s first investment. Boardroom catches up with collective co-founder Kara Nortman.
Kara Nortman co-founded the NWSL‘s Angel City soccer club in Los Angeles in 2020, quickly helping the team build to a $100 million valuation in a historically successful launch. Now, in 2023, it attempts to become the first-ever $1 billion women’s sports team.
Earlier this year, Nortman spoke with Boardroom upon launching Monarch Collective alongside Jasmine Robinson, a $100 million investment fund solely focused on women’s sports with backing from power players like Billie Jean King. Monarch’s first investment is a minority stake in a new NWSL club in Boston announced Tuesday, set to launch in 2026 with only the second US professional stadium specifically constructed with women’s soccer in mind.
Boston Unity Soccer Partners consists of an all-female core ownership group led by Juno Equity Founder and Boston Celtics minority stakeholder Jennifer Epstein as controlling partner, with 95% of the invested capital from women and 40% from women of color. In July 2022, Nortman had a tech-related meeting with Flybridge Capital General Partner Anna Palmer, another member of the Boston core ownership group, but all Kara & Anna could talk about was soccer. That conversation led Palmer to form a group looking to bid on an NWSL expansion team, helping in the process before she even knew Monarch Collective would launch.
“My upbringing on the investor side was through soccer, and it woke me up to what was possible in building Angel City. It started from a place of passion and purpose, and then it moved to the fastest growing revenue business I’ve ever seen, even including those in tech,” Nortman told Boardroom.
“So it just felt natural that our first investment would end up in soccer.”
Nortman said she worked collaboratively with the league on a policy to ensure there’s no conflict of interest, as she now serves as a minority investor for two NWSL clubs, Angel City and the to-be-named Boston expansion project. Nortman is not the controlling owner of either team, nor will she be involved in their sporting decisions, she said. For the former Upfront Ventures managing partner, it’s about bringing the right people and the right capital to the NWSL and women’s sports, building a pipeline of talent through Monarch Collective to send to many teams to help leagues thrive.
That mindset is part of what Kara Nortman called open source models for women’s sports success. That means sharing best practices to get teams and leagues better media deals, grow attendance numbers, attract better ownership groups, and increase franchise valuations across the board.
“At Angel City, anybody who wants to call me, I’ll get on the phone and share high level numbers, our model, the kinds of key hires we made in the beginning,” Nortman said.
Robinson spent more than three years as an investments and business operations manager with the San Francisco 49ers, helping the team move from the antiquated Candlestick Park to Levi’s Stadium. She was in charge, Nortman said, of everything from the new stadium’s wine program to negotiating an on-site merch contract with Fanatics and how much season ticket holders should pay for seats at a new stadium. These are types of elements that Monarch will bring to the Boston club as it looks to build a modernized new venue at George R. White Stadium in Franklin Park.
Like Los Angeles, Boston is a historic sports town with so many entrenched champions with followings that span generations, making building a team from scratch a unique challenge. The biggest keys to building up an NWSL franchise, Nortman said, is building community, finding talent, and showing up with strength. It’ll be vital to not only find the right people to grow the team but also build a stadium accessible to the demographics and populations that are lined up with the modern fan base. Nortman said she found the first two Angel City fans at an LAFC game, and it’ll be up to women’s soccer diehards like Palmer to attract fans and build up a diverse set of revenue streams.
Showing up with strength means believing in the product you’re selling, getting a fan base to buy in and help write the first chapter in the team’s history together while taking best practices from teams like the Celtics and Red Sox who have executives in the new ownership group. It’s about bringing in the right heads of revenue, heads of community, and executing on everything from best ticketing practices, building a supporters group, finding the right margin structures and sponsorship deals. Nortman believes women’s teams actually have an advantage in sponsorships, with new brands in beauty, supplements, and alcohol focused on women’s consumption gravitating toward them in addition to the influx of traditional sponsors.
Of course, this Boston club is just the first of what promises to be many Monarch Collective investments in women’s sports, with the fund closed and the group’s first hires coming soon. Nortman said Monarch is looking at global soccer, women’s basketball, golf, tennis, and media rights, striking a balance between being disciplined, thoughtful, collaborative, intentional, and bullish.
“The dollars are so big and people are having to make such big moves on the men’s side that there should be more room to just innovate on the women’s side,” she said. “But it takes focus and purpose to do it.”
With this investment in the NWSL’s 15th and newest club, Kara Nortman is hopeful that this is only the beginning of Monarch’s reign.
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