A few days later, he and his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, were watching the tournament final on television. Their young daughter Olympia was running around wearing the jersey of one of the team’s star players, Alex Morgan.
Out loud, Ohanian wondered about the possibility of Olympia ever playing the game professionally, but Serena cut it off.
“Without missing a beat, my wife was like, not until they paid her what she’s worth. And she was half kidding, but not really.”
At that point, Ohanian says he felt compelled to try to make a positive contribution to the world of women’s sports, “Okay baby,” he said, “challenge accepted!”
Twelve months later, ‘Angel City’ has become a reality. Ohanian is one of the main investors in a new football project in Los Angeles led by Hollywood actress and activist Natalie Portman.
The National Women’s Soccer League was formed in 2013 with just five teams, four have since been added and the league will reach double digits in 2021 when Racing Louisville FC joins the club. The following season, Angel City will make it 11 teams in the league.
According to Angel City President Julie Uhrman, the idea for this new team came during Portman’s involvement with Time’s Up, a movement created in 2018 to address sexual harassment.
“You can see that she really supports causes that are important to her and does meaningful work for those causes,” Uhrman told CNN Sport, adding, “she wanted to make her commitment to elevate women’s athletics. , to address pay equity and make it public and meaningful.”
Promoting the launch of Angel City in July, Portman spoke about the challenges that have traditionally held women’s sport back. She was talking on Instagram with someone who has experienced it for the past 20 years – Williams.
“Our team told me that only 4% of sports coverage is about women’s sports,” Portman said, “it’s crazy that we’re here in 2020 and it’s so disproportionate.”
swim against the tide
The team, which doesn’t have an official name yet – Angel City is just a nickname – and they won’t play until 2022. But it’s already clear that those behind the club are doing things differently.
On the one hand, the founding investors are almost exclusively women, “I think you can count the number of clubs that are predominantly female-owned with one hand and probably just a few fingers,” Uhrman told CNN, ” I mean, it’s very unusual.”
The 31 founding investors are listed on the club’s website and only four are male; Alexis Ohanian is one of those weirdos.
He described a first meeting with Uhrman, Portman and venture capitalist Kara Nortman, “the three of them sat down and said, ‘this is what we want to build, this is how we want to build it,’ and it was really important from day one to have a majority female-owned team.
“I think we can talk about so many disparities in professional sports. And I think one of the ways to get real change is not just to prove that this is an amazing company that will generate a lot of money, a lot of attention, and a lot of success, but it also shows that every aspect of running this organization can be different and be just as successful, if not more so, as a result.
“And not because it feels good, even if it feels good, but because it’s absurd that it’s not more normal.”
The club know they are trying to swim against the tide, and not just because they hope to change the perception of professional women’s sport; they are also launching a club in an already saturated Los Angeles sports market.
Uhrman taunts the clubs they will soon be rubbing shoulders with in a city notorious for its congestion, “Los Angeles is a market where there are already nine professional sports teams and [collegiate] powerhouses like the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
So even the idea of bringing another professional sports team here, the third football club here, is a big, ambitious idea.”
But Angel City believe their new approach will cut through the noise, establishing a local, community-based club with global appeal. “We know that women’s football has been incredibly successful during the Olympics and the World Cup,” said Uhrman,
“The question is, why is it every four years that they get such attention? And I think the answer is because of exposure and awareness.”
Behind the principal investors is a cast of Hollywood stars, including Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Jessica Chastain, as well as Serena Williams and 14 former United States Women’s National Team players; it is a group of women with tens of millions of followers on social networks; they will use their collective platforms to shout it from the rooftops.
“There’s this general problem that if you can’t see it,” Uhrman says, “You can’t be. If you can’t see it, you can’t follow it. [If] you can’t encourage it, you can’t make your friend a part of it, and so there’s a systemic problem that we need to address and change.”
Uhrman continues: “We have a group of people who come from the entertainment space, the media space, the sport and the technology space. We think of football as bigger than sport, in fact, we are there. think of as entertainment.”
Ohanian says the focus will be on social media storytelling to build the brand and it already seems to be working, “tens of thousands of people are very excited, [we’ve] sold out merchandise for a team that doesn’t yet exist.”
It compares women’s football to esports, which sparked a wave of investment five years ago, and concludes that the market has massively undervalued women’s football.
“These are clubs of gamers, young men who attract hundreds of millions of fans around the world. [But] the average American doesn’t know who the best League of Legends player is, when Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are already cultural icons.
“From a marketing perspective, no offense to esports, they’re much more marketable for brands that want to align with consumer spending in this country.”
In his chat with Williams on Instagram, Portman remarked that already Angel City has changed the conversation, “people are starting to think about how to do that in other sports as well.”
Women champion and uplift other women; the sisters do it for themselves. It’s a story from Los Angeles that could have a Hollywood ending and it’s a potential game-changer for women’s sports everywhere.