Serena Williams: US female ‘A’ listers and Reddit co-founder ready to disrupt football industry with Angel City
For Alexis Ohanian last summer, it started with a simple phone call. The entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit was in London and his friend wanted him to come to Paris, “He’s like, you’re an idiot if you don’t come to see France play through the USA.”
Shortly after, Ohanian, along with 45,000 other fans, was watching Megan Rapinoe score twice for the U.S. women’s national team in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup, giving her country its fourth world title.
“It’s believed to be the first time I’ve been to a women’s football match,” she said CNN Sport, “And the crowd was electric. I walked away thinking, how did I not pay attention to this? I didn’t even know there was a pro league back in the states? ”
A few days later, he and his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, were watching the tournament final on television. Their young daughter was running in the jersey of Alex Morgan, a star player of the Olympia team.
Out loud, Ohanian mused about the possibility of Olympia playing the sport professionally one day, but Serena cut him off.
“Without missing a beat, my wife was like, not until they pay her what she deserves. And she was half joking, but not really. ”
In that moment, Ohanian says she felt compelled to try to make a positive contribution to the world of women’s sports, “Okay babe,” she declared, “Challenge accepted!”
Read: Megan Rapinoe Says ‘We All Have a Responsibility to Make the World a Better Place’
Twelve months later, ‘Angel City’ has become a reality. Ohanian is a major investor in a new Los Angeles soccer project led by Hollywood actress and activist Natalie Portman.
The National Women’s Soccer League was formed in 2013 with just five teams, since then four have been added and the league will reach double figures in 2021 when Racing Louisville FC joins. Next season, Angel City will make it to 11 teams in the league.
According to Angel City President Julie Urman, the idea for this new team came about during Portman’s involvement with Time’s Up, a movement founded in 2018 to combat sexual harassment.
“You can see that she really gets behind the causes that are important to her and she does meaningful work for those causes,” Uhrman told CNN Sport, “She’s like elevating women’s athletics, equal pay. wanted to take her commitment to address. Make it public and meaningful.”
While promoting Angel City’s launch in July, Portman spoke about the challenges that have traditionally held back women’s sports. She was talking on Instagram with someone who has experienced this for the past 20 years – Williams.
“Our team told me that only 4% of sports coverage is women’s sport,” Portman said, adding, “It’s crazy that here we are in 2020 and it’s so unclear.”
Read: Alexis Ohanian on being married to Serena Williams
The team, which doesn’t yet have an official name — Angel City is just a nickname — and won’t play until 2022. But it is already clear that those behind the club are operating differently.
For one, the founding investors are almost exclusively women, “I think you can count the number of clubs that are primarily owned by women on one hand and probably on two fingers,” Uhrman told CNN. , “I mean, it’s very unusual.”
There are 31 founding investors listed on the club’s website and only four are men; Alexis Ohanian is one of those odd-men.
He described an initial meeting with Urman, Portman and venture capitalist Cara 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 that was really important.” .They have had a majority women-owned team since day one.
“I think we can talk about a lot of disparities in professional sports. And I think one of the ways we’re going to get real change is not just proving that this is an amazing business that’s going to generate a lot of money and a lot of attention and a lot of success, but also showing that this How the organization can be run. Be different and be more, if not more successful as a result.
“And not because it feels good, although it does feel good, but because it’s absurd that it’s not more common.”
The club knows they are trying to swim against the tide, and not just because they are hoping to change the perception of the professional women’s game; They are also launching a club in a Los Angeles sports market that is already saturated.
Read: Natalie Portman and Serena Williams are among the investors behind Angel City
“Los Angeles is a market that already has nine professional sports teams and [collegiate] Powerhouses like the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
So the idea of bringing another professional sports team here, a third soccer club here, is an ambitious, big idea. ”
But Angel City believes their new approach will cut through the noise, establishing a local, community, club with global appeal. “We know that women’s soccer has been incredibly successful during the Olympics and the World Cup,” Urman says.
“The question is, why is there such attention every four years? And I think the answer is because of exposure and awareness. ”
Behind the lead investors is a supporting cast of Hollywood stars, including Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Jessica Chastain, as well as Serena Williams and 14 former US women’s national team players; This is a group of women with millions of followers on social media; They are going to use their collective platforms to shout from the rooftops.
“It’s the general issue that if you can’t see it,” Urman says, “you can’t be it. If you can’t see it, you can’t follow it. [If] You can’t be happy about it, you can’t make your friend a part of it, and so there’s a systemic problem that we have to fix and change.”
Urman added, “We have a group of people who come from the entertainment space, media space, sports and technology space. We’re thinking about soccer more than sports, we’re actually thinking about it as entertainment.”
Ohanian says the focus for building the brand will be on social media storytelling and it already seems to be working, “Thousands of people are very excited, [we’ve] Sold merchandise for a team that doesn’t exist yet. ”
He compares women’s soccer to e-sports, which attracted a rush of investment five years ago, and concludes that the market has largely undervalued women’s soccer.
“These are gamers, youth clubs that draw millions of fans from around the world. [But] The average American doesn’t know who the best League of Legends player is, while Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are already cultural icons.
“From a marketing perspective, no offense to e-sports, they are very marketable to brands that want to connect with consumer spending in this country.”
In her conversation with Williams on Instagram, Portman commented that already, Angel City has changed the conversation, saying, “People are starting to think about how to do that in other games.”
Women standing up for and lifting up other women; Sisters are doing it for themselves. It’s an LA story that could have a Hollywood ending and is a potential game-changer for women’s sports everywhere.