Last summer, Alexis Ohanian received a phone call that kickstarted his journey. The entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit was visiting London when his friend urged him to join him in Paris to watch the USA-France game.
Soon after, Ohanian joined 45,000 other spectators to watch Megan Rapinoe score two goals for the US women’s national team in the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal, bringing her country closer to their fourth world title.
“I must admit, it was my first experience attending a women’s football game,” he shared with CNN Sport. “The atmosphere was incredibly lively. As I left, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t given it more attention. I didn’t even realize there was a professional league in the United States.”
Several days after, the couple, including the renowned tennis player Serena Williams, were tuned in to the tournament’s final match on TV. Their little daughter Olympia was running around while sporting the jersey of the team’s standout player, Alex Morgan.
Ohanian pondered aloud the potential for Olympia to pursue a professional career in the game, but Serena interrupted him.
“Without hesitation, my spouse responded that she would not do it until she is compensated fairly. While she said it with some humor, she also meant it seriously.”
At that time, Ohanian felt motivated to make a beneficial impact in the realm of women’s athletics. “Okay honey,” he proclaimed, “I accept your challenge!”
Megan Rapinoe states that it is our duty to contribute towards improving the world.
After a year, the project known as ‘Angel City’ has come to fruition. Ohanian is now a primary investor in a Los Angeles soccer initiative led by Hollywood actress and activist Natalie Portman.
The National Women’s Soccer League was established in 2013 and originally had five teams. Four more teams have been added since then, and the league will reach a total of ten teams in 2021 with the addition of Racing Louisville FC. The following season, Angel City will join the league, bringing the total number of teams to eleven.
Angel City’s President Julie Uhrman states that the concept for this fresh squad arose while Portman was involved with Time’s Up, an initiative created in 2018 to address sexual harassment.
Uhrman expressed that the individual is passionate about causes that hold significance to her and actively contributes to them. She also expressed that the individual’s goal is to further support women in sports, address fair pay, and make a meaningful impact.
Discussing the upcoming launch of Angel City in July, Portman addressed the obstacles that have historically hindered women’s sports. She engaged in a conversation on Instagram with Williams, who has personally experienced these challenges for the past two decades.
Portman stated that her team informed her about the fact that only 4% of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports. She expressed disbelief at the disproportionate representation in the year 2020.
READ: Alexis Ohanian on being married to Serena Williams
Struggling against the current.
The team, currently without an official name and known only as Angel City, will not begin playing until 2022. However, it is evident that the club’s creators are taking a unique approach.
Firstly, the initial investors consist primarily of women. According to Uhrman, there are only a handful of clubs where the majority of ownership belongs to women, and even then, it’s a rarity.
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 an initial meeting with Uhrman, Portman, and venture capitalist Kara Nortman, he shared that the three of them gathered to discuss their vision for the project and how they planned to execute it. It was emphasized from the beginning that having a team primarily made up of women was a top priority for them.
I believe there are numerous discrepancies in the world of professional sports that we need to address. One potential solution for creating meaningful change is not only demonstrating the immense success and profitability of this industry, but also showcasing how different approaches to running organizations can lead to even greater success.
“Not only does it feel good, but it’s also absurd that this is not considered the norm.”
The organization is aware that they are facing challenges, as they strive to make a positive impact on the image of women’s professional sports. Their additional hurdle is establishing a club in the competitive Los Angeles sports scene.
Natalie Portman and Serena Williams are both investors in Angel City.
Uhrman lists the clubs that they will soon be alongside in a city known for its crowdedness: “Los Angeles is a market that currently boasts nine professional sports teams as well as collegiate powerhouses such as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.”
The notion of adding another professional sports team, specifically a third soccer club, to this location is a lofty and ambitious idea.
Angel City is confident that their unique strategy will stand out and create a popular, community-oriented club with worldwide appeal. Uhrman states, “We have seen the immense success of women’s soccer in events like the Olympics and World Cup.”
Why do they receive so much attention every four years? I believe it is due to increased exposure and awareness.
The key investors are backed by a group of famous Hollywood personalities such as Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, and Jessica Chastain. Additionally, Serena Williams and 14 former players from the US women’s national team are also part of this collective. With a combined following of tens of millions on social media, these women will use their platforms to spread the word.
Uhrman points out a common problem of lack of representation: “If you can’t see it, you can’t aspire to it. If you can’t see it, you can’t emulate it. If you can’t support it, you can’t encourage others to join. This systemic issue needs to be addressed and remedied.”
Uhrman elaborates, “Our team consists of individuals with backgrounds in entertainment, media, sports, and technology. We view soccer as more than just a sport; it is a form of entertainment.”
Ohanian states that the emphasis will be on using social media to tell a story and promote the brand, and it appears to be successful. “Tens of thousands of people are highly enthusiastic and we have already sold out merchandise for a team that has not even been formed yet.”
He believes that female soccer has been undervalued by the market, similar to the rush of investment seen in e-sports five years ago.
These are groups of individuals who play video games, mostly young men, who have a large following of fans from all around the globe. However, the typical American is not aware of who the top player is in League of Legends, while Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have already become influential figures in popular culture.
“As a marketing strategy, without any intention of being offensive to e-sports, they are much more appealing to brands that want to be associated with consumer spending in this country.”
During her Instagram chat with Williams, Portman mentioned that Angel City has already shifted the discussion. She noted, “People are now considering how to replicate this in other sports.”
Women are supporting and promoting other women; they are empowering themselves. It’s a story from Los Angeles that could have a happy ending in Hollywood and has the potential to make a significant impact on women’s sports around the world.