Last summer, Alexis Ohanian received a phone call that sparked his journey. The entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit was in London at the time and his friend invited him to come to Paris, saying “You’d be foolish not to come watch the USA play France.”
Soon after, Ohanian joined 45,000 other spectators to witness Megan Rapinoe score two goals for the US women’s national team in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup, propelling her country towards their fourth world championship.
“I have to admit, it was my first time attending a women’s football game,” he shared with CNN Sport. “The atmosphere was exhilarating. As I left, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t given it more attention before. I didn’t even know there was a professional league in the States.”
A couple of days later, the tennis superstar Serena Williams and her husband were tuning in to watch the final match of the tournament. Their little daughter, Olympia, was prancing around in a jersey belonging to one of the top players on the team, Alex Morgan.
Aloud, Ohanian pondered the potential for Olympia to one day pursue a career in the game, but Serena interrupted him.
My wife immediately responded, saying that she would not accept until she is paid what she deserves. Although she was partly joking, she was also serious.
At that moment, Ohanian felt a strong desire to make a beneficial impact in the realm of women’s sports. He enthusiastically declared, “Let’s do it!”
Megan Rapinoe is quoted as saying that it is our collective responsibility to contribute to making the world a better place.
Twelve months later, ‘Angel City’ has become a reality. Ohanian is a lead investor on a new Los Angeles soccer project led by the Hollywood actress and activist Natalie Portman.
The National Women’s Soccer League was established in 2013 with five initial teams. Four additional teams have been added since then, and the league will reach a total of ten teams in 2021 with the inclusion of Racing Louisville FC. The following season, Angel City will increase the number of teams to 11.
According to Angel City’s President Julie Uhrman, the idea for this new team came during Portman’s involvement with Time’s Up, a movement established in 2018 to combat sexual harassment.
Uhrman shared with CNN Sport that she is passionate about supporting causes that are close to her heart and actively works towards making a difference. She has a strong dedication to promoting women’s athletics, tackling pay inequality, and bringing attention to these issues in a significant way.
Portman discussed the obstacles that have historically hindered women’s sports while promoting the launch of Angel City in July. She was engaged in an Instagram conversation with Williams, who has personally experienced these challenges for the past two decades.
Portman stated that her team informed her that only 4% of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, and she finds it unacceptable that in 2020 the representation is still so unequal.
Alexis Ohanian talks about his marriage to Serena Williams.
Swimming in the opposite direction of the current.
The team, currently without an official name (referred to as Angel City), will not begin playing until 2022. However, it is evident that the team’s management is taking a unique approach.
According to Uhrman, the majority of the founding investors are women, which is a rare occurrence in the industry. She stated, “There are very few clubs that have primarily female ownership, you can probably count them on one hand, maybe even just a few fingers.”
Listed on the club’s website are the 31 founding investors and only four are men; Alexis Ohanian is one of those odd-men out.
During a previous encounter, he recounted sitting down with Uhrman, Portman, and venture capitalist Kara Nortman who expressed their vision for the project and emphasized the importance of having a primarily female-led team from the very beginning.
There are many inequalities present in professional sports that we should address. One way to bring about meaningful change is not only by demonstrating the profitability and popularity of this industry, but also by implementing new and successful methods in how these organizations are managed.
“I am not saying this because it brings pleasure, although it is certainly enjoyable, but because it seems absurd that it is not considered more ordinary.”
The organization is aware that they are facing challenges, as they attempt to change the perception of women’s sports at a professional level. They are also establishing a new club in the crowded Los Angeles sports market.
Natalie Portman and Serena Williams are two of the investors involved in Angel City.
Uhrman lists the clubs that they will soon be in close proximity with in a city known for its crowdedness, stating, “Los Angeles is a market with nine existing professional sports teams and renowned colleges like University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.”
The concept of adding a third soccer team to this location is a grand and ambitious idea, even for a city that already has professional sports teams.
But Angel City believes that their novel approach will cut through the noise, establishing a local, community, club with global appeal. “We know women’s soccer has been incredibly successful during the Olympics and World Cup,” Uhrman says,
Why is it that every four years they receive so much attention? I believe it is due to increased exposure and awareness.
A group of influential Hollywood celebrities, such as Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, and Jessica Chastain, as well as Serena Williams and 14 former players from the US women’s national team, are backing the key investors. These women have a combined social media following of tens of millions and plan to use their platforms to promote the cause.
Uhrman explains that there is a widespread problem where not being able to see something means not being able to aspire to it, follow it, or support it. This leads to a larger issue that needs to be addressed and altered.
Uhrman adds, “Our team consists of individuals with backgrounds in entertainment, media, sports, and technology. We view soccer not just as a sport, but as a form of entertainment.”
Ohanian discusses the importance of using social media to tell a story and establish the brand, and it appears to be successful. He mentions that there is already a lot of enthusiasm, with merchandise for a non-existent team selling out to tens of thousands of people.
He is drawing a comparison between women’s soccer and e-sports, a field that experienced a surge of investment five years ago. He has determined that the market has greatly underestimated the value of female soccer.
“These are organizations made up of young men who have a large following of millions of fans worldwide due to their gaming skills. However, the average American may not be familiar with the top player in League of Legends, while Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have already become cultural icons.”
“In terms of marketing, I mean no disrespect to e-sports, but they are much more appealing to brands looking to align with consumer spending in this country.”
During her Instagram chat with Williams, Portman mentioned that Angel City has already made an impact in shifting the discussion. She stated, “People are now considering how to implement this in other sports as well.”
Women are supporting and promoting other women; they are taking charge for themselves. This is a story from LA that could have a Hollywood-like conclusion and it has the potential to revolutionize women’s sports globally.