The Pioneers & The Disruptors
In 2022, women’s professional sports sponsorships grew 20% year-over-year, but just 3% of print and 4% of online coverage went to women’s sports and less than 20% of all TV covered women only or mixed sport. Also in 2022, a mere 2% of venture capital funding went to female founders. It’s no surprise, then, that if only 2% of all capital went to female founders, a very slim micro-decimal group of female founded businesses in sports are VC-backed. And this, dear readers, is the point.
I share stories that identify, share and celebrate some of the greatest initiatives happening right now in women’s sports with the goal of shining light on the people and the organizations that are leading the movement.
Angel City FC
In 2022, actress and activist, Natalie Portman, joined forces with venture capitalist, Kara Nortman, and entrepreneur, Julie Uhrman, to make their shared vision a reality: a professional women’s soccer team in Los Angeles, California.
And not just any team…
An organization with staying power and purpose.
An organization that would secure investment from over 100 A-list celebrities and business moguls. Investors like Serena Williams, her husband Alexis Ohanian Sr., and her daughter Olympia. Investors like Christina Aguilera, Abby Wambach, Eva Longoria and Billie Jean King.
A majority woman-owned sports team that would become a beacon of hope and inspiration for young girls across the globe – girls that dreamed of one-day playing their sport professionally in front of sold out crowds for equitable pay.
A globally recognized brand that would lead with purpose, funneling 10% of their sponsorship revenue back into Los Angeles community programs, fighting for equal pay, and returning 1% of their ticket revenue to their players. The team’s Player 22 (P22) Fund siphons a percentage of merchandise revenue into career development initiatives for retired NWSL players.
A profitable business model that would generate revenue through partnerships and sponsorships whose respective missions matched the vision and mission of the team: to advance conditions and establish pay equity for female athletes and their communities.
In an April 2022 article for Fast Company, Julie Herbst wrote that “the club has also developed an industry-first sponsorship program to draw in brands that are not traditionally aligned with sports and is finding fresh ways to support its world-class players on and off the pitch.”
They weren’t just building a sports team, and they knew it.
The founders of ACFC were asking themselves tough questions, like…
What does it mean to use sports as a tool to address social injustice in our communities?
How do we address the inequities that young girls face, and how do we keep them in sports longer?
Is it systemic change or immediate change?
Megan Armstrong said in her September 2022 article for Boardroom that “Angel City’s model is built upon famous and successful people deciding to convert their social capital into economic capital, which will only lead to denser sociological influence.”
So, how are things going for Angel City Football Club after their inaugural 2022 season in Banc of California Stadium?
Well, for starters…. The ownership group model that ACFC created – one that asks investors to act more like founders and engage with the team at every level – is now the standard for all teams in the NWSL. This ownership model has rippled through the other teams in the NWSL as other celebrities, famous athletes and women investors call for other teams to get in on the movement.
Success, for a sports team, is quantified in numbers, and typically, there are three pieces of the revenue pie.
In the same article, Team President and Co-Owner, Julie Uhrman, was quoted as saying, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re going to be the first women’s team to have a billion dollar valuation in five years.”
In an interview with The Athletic, Jessica Smith, ACFC head of revenue, shared that the team has sold merchandise in all 50 states and in 46 countries outside the U.S., to the tune of mid-seven figures. They’ve accumulated over $40 million in sponsorships. Ticketing revenue has reached seven figures.
Here are some concrete examples of what I’m talking about, all listed on the team’s Wikipedia site.
- The club’s eight-figure deal with DoorDash as the inaugural primary kit sponsor is the largest in the NWSL.
- Angel City sold $6 million in merchandise in 2022 to lead the league.
- The club’s revenue accounted for 38.75% of the NWSL’s total revenue for the year.
- Expansion fees for the NWSL jumped from $3-5M to $53M for the new Bay Area Expansion team announced earlier this year.
- Last August, Angel City was valued at more than $100 million, and the Washington Spirit ($35 million) and Gotham FC ($40 million) also saw their valuations increase.
- They now have a three-part docu series on HBO.
In short, the model is working.
Much to the disbelief of the sports industry as a whole, the vision that Natalie Portman and her co-founders had for a group-funded professional NWSL soccer team in LA has become a reality. The team’s 100+ co-owners and investors have changed the game in women’s sports, and they’ll continue to do so.
“This is an opportunity to try and actually make a cultural shift,” said Portman. And a shift they’ll get.
This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn and was published here with permission.