Angel City Football Club Is a Women-led Model of Entrepreneurship, a Celebration of Diversity and an Incubator of Community

Just like heaven.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photos courtesy
    Angel City Football Club

As we deal with our current challenging times of disharmony and struggle for equal rights in America and beyond, Angel City Football Club (ACFC), Los Angeles’ new women’s soccer team, has created glorious moments of unity: selling out soccer stadiums, giving back to communities and empowering women all along the way. Its mission is as ambitious as it is inspiring—to make an impact on and off the field, and to provide an opportunity to some of the best professional female athletes in the world to play on a stage as powerful as Los Angeles.

ACFC played its first game in April, selling out the Banc of California Stadium in Downtown Los Angeles. The joyful crowd deliriously cheered to victory the National Women’s Soccer League’s newest expansion team, as the outpouring of emotion crowned a monumental building process that had begun years before.

The club was founded by award-winning actress, director and activist Natalie Portman, technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman and entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, who is Angel City’s president. ACFC’s ownership and leading investors boast an iconic and diverse group of well-known performers, sports figures and business moguls including such powerhouses as Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Becky G, Rachel Zoe, Christina Aguilera, Sophia Bush, Jessica Chastain, Glennon Doyle, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Gabrielle Union, Cindy Holland, Jennifer Garner, Cobi Jones, Eva Longoria and many more.

Julie spent most of her career in the male-dominated gaming, technology and entertainment world, and she is accustomed to being one of the only women in the room. Her grit and determination power her success, and when Natalie and Kara were looking for someone to help bring a professional women’s soccer team to L.A. in 2019, it seemed no one was more fitting for the role of president.

“We serve a beautiful community of reimaginers that inspire us every day.”

Breaking down barriers is built into the DNA of the club. Natalie played a significant role in shining a light on gender inequity in Hollywood entertainment. “There was a strong push toward female empowerment and women demanding equal pay and equal representation,” shares Julie. “And certainly in Hollywood there were cases of abuse where women were kept quiet. But women were starting to use their voices, and Natalie was a significant vocal player.”

Natalie is passionate about building more awareness to increase representation and fairness for female directors and actresses. She joined the board of the Time’s Up movement, fighting for a future where no one was harassed, assaulted or discriminated against at work.

On the board, Natalie met Becca Roux, executive director for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) Player’s Association, who was deeply involved in the lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation—battling for equal pay for women athletes. Her fight resonated with Natalie. As she learned more about the pay inequity for women in sports and met the players, she became invested in them and their success—culminating in the idea of launching a women’s professional soccer team in Los Angeles.

In May the USWNT finally won their suit, granting equal pay and benefits to both U.S. women’s and men’s teams. This victory ignited a global movement for equality in national sports and formed an inspiring backdrop for Angel City Football Club’s inaugural season.

Launching ACFC was a massive undertaking. The L.A. market is already home to many successful sports franchises, yet the three female founders were determined to make it happen and are running the business like a start-up.

“We built Angel City differently,” explains Julie. “We are raising money as we go, as we choose certain goals and milestones, and eventually we’re working toward being profitable. We wanted to build Angel City as an organization where mission and capital coexist—without sacrificing one for the other.”

They also found an incredible advocate, ally and supporter in Alexis Ohanian, a successful entrepreneur and husband of Serena Williams, who came on board as a controlling owner. Instead of having all female owners, the founders believed in the idea of uniting with those who were fully supportive of their mission regardless of gender.

One of the greatest challenges they faced was how to tap a crowded market—there are 11 professional sports teams in the area. But the bigger question was whether there were enough soccer fans to support three L.A.-based soccer teams (including LA Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club).

The answer to that question has been a resounding yes. ACFC has found a way to stand out, which Julie attributes to “being intentional about defining who we are, what our values are, building Angel City with the community and having a different identity in the market.”

ACFC has been very intentional about creating a game-day experience that is not only entertaining but connects with the entire community. L.A.’s response has been overwhelming, selling out stadiums while creating an inclusive, welcoming and electric atmosphere. Their first victory was more than just three points in the league; it was a celebration for all women and girls watching in the stands.

“We want to be recognized as a global brand,” Julie says. “We want people around the world to know who Angel City is because we believe the greater awareness we have, the more impact we can have.”

L.A. has the largest community of youth female soccer players in the U.S., and Angel City has now become a beacon for them. Julie is passionate about that responsibility.

“There’s the saying, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’ Right? There is this general perception that people don’t care about women’s sports and people won’t watch women’s sports. Well, that gets recycled because you couldn’t watch them, and so it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.” But Julie contends that ACFC is the visceral proof that the women’s game is thriving.

Social impact is a massive part of ACFC’s mission, and it leads with its values. The club gives back 10% of all its sponsorship dollars to the community through their platform of equity, essentials and education. ACFC has also given their players a stake in ticket sales, which encourages them to tell stories to their network of fans.

The club’s social impact program involves running coaching clinics and clinics for kids, teaching about leadership, bringing STEM into schools, as well as feeding those who don’t have access to food. They have also partnered with Nike to donate 22,000 sports bras to young girls in need, to encourage more participation in the sport.

According to Julie, their model is working. “We’re seeing that our relationships with our partners are extending beyond what we originally signed up to do.” She believes this impact model will bring in other brands and sponsors who understand their values and want to align with them.

The ACFC team culture is a positive one. Management wants to ensure their players are happy, fulfilled and feeling supported—and not just while playing. That’s why Angela Hucles Mangano, Angel City’s vice president of player development and operations, is so invested in the Player 22 Future Program. This innovative fund aims to support retired National Women’s Soccer League players who are interested in careers in the sports industry as they move on to the next chapter in their lives.

Angela, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Team, knows only too well the challenges these current players face. “Because of my background—both as a player and then seeing the sport in a variety of roles, from commentating to coaching to working in corporate and nonprofit management—my approach to player development is a very holistic one,” she says. “There’s a unique opportunity, especially within the platform of Angel City, to think about how we can better the player experience through off-field player development. We need to look for opportunities, resources, connections and education we can provide our players to not only enhance their experience right now, but also to start to build those connections and networks. The idea is that they are prepared when they leave the sport as a player and already have a road map for their future.”

Many of the players are already entrepreneurs in their own right. Team captain Ali Riley has written a vegan cookbook. Jasmyne Spencer has a business creating fashion to support climate change. And goalkeeper DiDi Haračić is a talented photographer.

ACFC’s first signing and star player Christen Press is a former resident of the South Bay who graduated from Chadwick School in Palos Verdes. She is a key player for the USWNT, and along with Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg and Megan Rapinoe—other titans of the women’s game—founded a brand called re—inc that creates collections, content and a community that propels changemakers to boldly reimagine the world.

Along with creating eco-conscious and gender-free fashion, their goal is to amplify narratives from underrepresented voices and unite a global community of folks interested in social service. Christen is extremely passionate about their mission. “In our own recognition of how status quo structure had devalued us as professional athletes, we were motivated to build something that would help be the change the world needs,” she says.

Three years after its launch, re—inc is still her baby. “We serve a beautiful community of reimaginers that inspire us every day.” They have grown almost entirely organically—their community has found them either through following their careers in soccer or through their fight for pay equity.

Christen says re—inc is for equity, creativity, progress and art. “It’s where I get to be creative. It’s where I get to lead. It’s where I get to be my best and most authentic self. And for that, I’m forever grateful to my team and community.”

Angel City is much bigger than a club. It’s a purpose-driven organization striving for equity. As a team mainly operated by women, there was no example for them to follow. So they had to step up to be the first.

“Just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it can’t exist,” Julie emphasizes. “We wanted to show what is possible. Our team is motivated by the tremendous project that is Angel City. We are inspired by the community of people who have rallied around us to celebrate sport and equity and progress. It’s a huge honor to represent a new future that brings us together on and off the pitch. We’re lighting the fire that catches and spreads everywhere.”

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