A few days later, he and his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, watched the tournament final on TV. Their little daughter Olympia ran in the jersey of one of the team’s star players, Alex Morgan.
Ohanian wondered aloud about the possibility that Olympia would someday play the game professionally, but Serena cut him off.
“Without wasting a second, my wife said, ‘No, not until she gets paid what she’s worth. And she was half joking, but not quite.”
At that moment, according to Ohanian, he felt the need to try to make a positive contribution to the world of women’s sports. “Okay, baby,” he said, “challenge accepted!”
Twelve months later, “City of Angels” became a reality. Ohanian is the lead investor in a new Los Angeles football project led by Hollywood actress and activist Natalie Portman.
The National Women’s Soccer League was formed in 2013 with just five teams, four have since been added, and will hit double digits in 2021 when Racing Louisville joins. Angel City will have 11 teams in the league next season.
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 created in 2018 to combat sexual harassment.
“You can see she’s really supporting the causes that matter to her and she’s doing meaningful work for those causes,” Urman told CNN Sport, adding, “She wanted to make a commitment to elevate women’s athletics, address the issue of equality in remuneration and make it public and meaningful”.
While promoting the launch of Angel City in July, Portman spoke about the issues that have traditionally held back women’s sports. She was talking on Instagram with someone who has experienced it first hand in the last 20 years – Williams.
“Our team told me that only 4% of sports coverage is about women’s sports,” Portman said, “it’s crazy that we’re here in 2020 and it’s so out of proportion.”
Swimming against the current
The team, which does not yet have an official name – “City of Angels” is just a nickname – and they will not play until 2022 at the earliest. But it is already clear that those behind the club do things differently.
First, founder-investors are almost exclusively women: “I think you can count the number of clubs that are mostly female-owned on the fingers of one hand and probably just a couple of fingers,” Urman told CNN, “I mean that is very unusual. ”
The club’s website lists 31 founding investors, and only four men; Alexis Ohanian is one of those weirdos.
He described an early meeting with Urman, Portman and venture capitalist Kara Northman: “The three of them sat down and said, ‘This is what we want to build, this is how we want to build it,’ and it was really important to them from day one that the majority of the team was owned by women.” .
“I think we can talk about a lot of differences in professional sports. And I think that one of the ways to make a real difference is not just to prove that this is an amazing business that will bring in a lot of money, a lot of attention and a lot of money. success, but it also shows that every part of how this organization is run can be different and end up being just as successful, if not more successful.
“And not because it’s nice, although it’s really good, but because it’s ridiculous that it’s not more normal.”
The club knows it’s trying to swim against the tide, and not just because it hopes to change the image of professional women’s sports; they are also opening a club in the Los Angeles sports market, which is already saturated.
Urman lists the clubs they will soon face in a city known for its busyness: “Los Angeles is a market where there are already nine professional sports teams and [collegiate] such powerful centers as the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles.
So even the idea of bringing another professional sports team here, a third football club, is an ambitious, big idea.”
But Angel City believes their innovative approach will help cut through the noise by creating a local, social club with global appeal. “We know that women’s football has been incredibly successful during the Olympics and World Cups,” Urman says.
“The question is, why do they attract such attention every four years? And I think the answer is because of exposure and awareness.”
Behind the key investors is a minor cast of Hollywood stars, including Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Jessica Chastain, as well as Serena Williams and 14 former US women’s team players; it is a group of women with tens of millions of social media followers; they are going to use their collective platforms to shout it from the rooftops.
“There’s a common problem: if you don’t see it,” Urman says, “you can’t be it. If you don’t see it, you can’t follow it. [If] you can’t cheer him up, you can’t force your friend to be part of it, and so there’s a systemic problem that we need to fix and change.”
Urman continues: “We have a group of people from entertainment, media, sports and technology. We think of football as more than a sport, in fact we think of it as entertainment.”
Ohanian says the focus will be on social media storytelling to build a brand, and it looks like it’s already working: “Tens of thousands of people are very excited, [we’ve] sold out merchandise for a team that doesn’t exist yet.”
He compares women’s football to esports, which attracted investment five years ago, and concludes that the market has grossly undervalued women’s football.
“These are clubs of gamers, young people who gather hundreds of millions of fans around the world. [But] The average American doesn’t know who the best League of Legends player is, while Megan Rapino and Alex Morgan have already become cultural icons.
“From a marketing standpoint, no offense to esports, they are much more appealing to brands that want to match consumer spending in this country.”
In her conversation with Williams on Instagram, Portman noticed that Angel City has already changed the conversation, “people are starting to think about how to do this in other sports.”
Women protect and uplift other women; sisters do it for themselves. This is a Los Angeles story that could have a Hollywood finale and potentially be a game-changer for women’s sports around the world.