Several Stanford alumni are contributing to the founding of a new women’s soccer team based in Los Angeles, which will join the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2022. The team, currently dubbed the Angel City FC, will be the first team in the NWSL to be funded by a majority-female group including former Stanford Cardinal and U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) players Julie Foudy ’94, Rachel Bueler Van Hollebeke ’07 and Ronnie Fair ’99.
This team has been in the works since the start of 2019; since then the group of founders has grown a lot from the original four: actress and activist Natalie Portman, technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media entrepreneur Julie Uhrman and tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian. Foudy and soccer icon Mia Hamm were able to bring 14 national team players from Southern California to the ownership group as well, Foudy said in an interview with The Daily.
“This group of founders just has this incredible mix,” she said. “There’s never been players that have come on these numbers before in funding a NWSL team. I don’t actually know of any players on the women’s side that have invested in a team.”
“Then you have the A-list celebrities, you have venture capitalists, you have tech entrepreneurs, you have media entrepreneurs. There are just a lot of creative types who can give expertise in all these different areas,” she added.
The NWSL currently has a total of nine different teams stationed around the U.S., with a 10th, Racing Louisville FC, being added in 2021. However none of those teams are based in California. Los Angeles will be the first city in the state to see its own NWSL team.
“Los Angeles has nine professional sports teams, two robust NCAA powerhouses with USC and UCLA,” said Uhrman, the president of Angel City FC, in an interview with Spectrum News LA. “And yet they’re missing some of the best players in the world, in the top global sport in the world, so we thought now was the time.”
California is also one of the world’s biggest centers for women’s soccer fans with the USWNT still holding the world attendance record for a women’s sporting event with 90,185 attending a match at the Rose Bowl in Southern California for the 1999 World Cup Final.
“There’s a million things that are vying for people’s money in terms of entertainment so it’s a crowded market,” Foudy said. “It’s hard to get some traction but it helps having the ownership group that we have to get some traction, which we’ve seen. It is very important to find more people who are willing to invest into women’s sports.”
Along with the USWNT players and the original founders, this group also includes many other recognizable names including Serena Williams, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria.
“I think when you get an ownership group like this coming on board with all of its big names and deep pockets that can get to a lot of different constituents and hopefully fans involved and so it brings a tremendous excitement and enthusiasm,” Foudy said. “I’m sure the sponsors love it as well, having a lot of these names associated with NWSL.”
The lack of funding for women’s sports has posed a significant barrier in the past.
“One of the challenges in women’s ownership groups and one of the things that’s sometimes held women’s sports back in the past is having the money to fund a team,” Foudy explained. “There needs to be people who can afford to make these long-term investments.”
The women haven’t been shy about efforts plaguing the women’s sports industry, particularly in supporting the fight for equal pay. With the expansion of women’s soccer teams in other countries, many of which are beginning to pay their players more, Foudy said that some are concerned that the best players will leave the U.S. for leagues in Europe.
“I think the challenge for NWSL is that there are many more leagues now that are trying to get players to come play there instead of in the U.S.” Foudy said. “They have really good teams and they pay much more than the NWSL is willing to pay. If you want to attract the best in the world, internationally, and if you want to keep your best domestic players as well, how do you figure out a formula that doesn’t render the league bankrupt?”
The NWSL could also end up losing teams and ownership because they can’t afford to sustain salaries. In order to draw funding and players into the NWSL, it is necessary that they are viewed as the best league in the world, and part of that perception comes down to the money, Foudy explained.
“It’s our goal to have women’s professional soccer players make a living only playing women’s professional soccer,” Uhrman told The New York Times.
League officials have stated that more concrete information will be released soon regarding the Angel City FC’s official name, logo and stadium. The management must also decide if they will meet with a Major League Soccer team based in LA to discuss potentially sharing infrastructure or facilities.
“There was so much concern about what would happen with women’s sports post-pandemic with all the cutbacks and slashing and everything else,” Foudy said. “There still is a lot of concern, so I think it is a good sign when you can have this kind of progress and growth.”
With Louisville and now Angel City joining the NWSL ranks, there’s been some much-needed good news for sports fans in 2020.
“We’re still two years away from a season launching in 2022 so we have a lot of time and hopefully the ability to add a lot of donors and investors,” Foudy said. “But there has also been a lot of support and enthusiasm from the LA community since the announcement which is really important too.”
Contact Zenobia Lloyd at zenobiarose97 ‘at’ gmail.com