First at The IX: Carli Lloyd is Gotham FC’s new minority owner — Lloyd talks exclusively to The IX about her new role

The IX: Soccer... Wednesday? with Howard Megdal? April 27, 2022

Happy Soccer… Wednesday! Breaking news: Carli Lloyd, New Jersey soccer icon, is now a minority owner of Gotham FC, the club where she played the final three seasons of her distinguished career.

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Lloyd discussed this new role with me exclusively ahead of the announcement. Read our complete conversation below, or listen here!

Five at The IX: Carli Lloyd

Howard Megdal: This is a manifestation of you finding soccer and bringing it directly into your day to day life now.

Carli Lloyd: Well, this announcement with Gotham FC has been a long time coming. Obviously there’s been a lot of paperwork and a lot of details that have had to been ironed out. So I’ve been anxiously awaiting this announcement for a number of different reasons. I felt that leaving the field and playing my last game for Gotham FC, that concluded my career. I just felt there was still more for me to give. And so this is an exciting opportunity, one in which I’ll probably figure out as I stay involved of what I really enjoy as far as an ownership standpoint, what I’m going to want to dabble in a little bit more than other things.

But I really haven’t been able to catch my breath since retirement, which is a good thing. I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities. I’m probably busier now than I was in my playing days. I’m also more available for many different things since I’m not training and playing games. So it’s been… It’s been really amazing. I’ve been able to take on so many different opportunities and immerse myself in different uncomfortable situations. And I’ve been just enjoying this really… This phase of life.

Howard Megdal: When you talk about uncomfortable situations over the last few months, take me through what some of those things have been. What’s been keeping you busy?

Carli Lloyd: Well, I think… Obviously I had some… I had about a two and a half month retirement sendoff. So I…

Howard Megdal: I remember.

Carli Lloyd: I was able to start, in the short term figure out the necessary steps. It was one of those things where in speaking with my agents, just figuring out what I want to do with my life after soccer and just keeping all doors open. So, for me, this was a ownership side of it. Like I said, for Gotham FC, the second part of the season, I really saw it going in a different direction, in a much positive direction, especially with EIL and Ed, and… I talk with Tammy very frequently, so I knew there was always an opportunity to stay connected and that’s what we did after I finished up with them. So we’ve been in constant communication.

And then being able to be a co-conductor at the FIFA men’s world cup draw, never been a part of a live show before, never co-conducted a show. So that was definitely an uncomfortable but amazing experience to be part of, having the opportunity with Fox, to be on the desk as an analyst and go in the booth a little bit with ESPN. So I’m staying busy, staying busy with a lot of my sponsors, which have graciously continued to onboard me and keep me involved, have some really cool projects with Teqball and an emerging sport. So that’s really neat.

So yes, just putting myself out there. It’s an interesting process, the retirement phase, I think. Many people tell you it’s a hard adjustment. It’s really not. I haven’t found it very hard at all because I was able to dictate everything and when I left the sport. So that I’m essentially very grateful for. And I’ve had a lot of opportunities and I think, my on the field training and dedication has just rolled into this retirement phase. I’m finding myself just saying yes to everything, wanting to do everything right now, just to figure out what I actually really love and what I want to pursue. So it’s been really, really good.

Howard Megdal: I remember talking to you last fall about coaching is something that you had in mind. Your competitive juices, I would imagine, might be more engaged with something on the soccer op side. I guess I just wonder how you think about that, about balancing that, and how much that plays a part in an ownership stake in a team, but obviously you’ve given a lot already, but it’s different. It’s not soccer per se, right?

Carli Lloyd: Yes. I think that’s the beauty of it is there’s just… There’s so many things from an ownership perspective, and with my experience and knowledge on the game and being a player, I think that offers a much different perspective. And I think oftentimes what we’ve seen in the NWSL over the years is there’s a… And not saying this with Gotham FC, but there’s a little bit of a breakdown from a top down to the players. And, I don’t know what I’m going to enjoy. Am I going to enjoy maybe being out at practice occasionally, or in and around the team, or am I going to want to really get with Yael and Ed and Tammy and discuss more of the business side? I think that’s going to be the beauty of it, is its just going to allow me to figure out what I really like, what I want to get involved in, what I want to help in.

And that’s interesting to me. I think I’m competitive by nature. I’m always striving to be the best version of myself in anything that I do. And I don’t think that… What I’m realizing is I think I like to have different buckets going on in my life and just striving to be the best at many different things. So this will be a unique situation, but I’m thrilled about it. And I think it couldn’t have come at a more better time, especially with the rise that Gotham FC are seeing, and I’m excited. I’m excited to help… Help continue to build the club.

Howard Megdal: There’s also an element of real financial zoom that I think we’re seeing across women’s sports, but particularly in women’s soccer in the NWSL. And the example I always go back to is we look at when the Seattle Reign were sold and became OL Reign. They were sold for… I want to say it was $3.4 million, if memory served. And it wasn’t that long ago, it was late 2019. And we saw the Washington Spirit just get sold for $35 million, a little bit of a different scenario with a bidding war, but there was another group that was prepared to spend 25. That’s a tenfold increase in a matter of a couple of years. So just as you think about your long term security and there’s so many things you had to give up through the years to concentrate on soccer. How much does that play a part of feeling like this is the right time for buying into a soccer team for your family’s financial security and future?

Carli Lloyd: Yes, well, for me it’s just a perfect time and I think it’s just so important. And I think it’s important to have the right people involved, and as we’ve been seeing with the NWSL, it has to be done right. And it may take a little bit. With Gotham FC, you’re not going to see Red Bull that sold out on the first [inaudible 00:08:22] open of this game. That’s what we’re striving for, but you have to start at the bottom and build yourself up the right way. I’m a big, big believer in just doing things the right way, and eventually something amazing is going to be built. And so I think, you’re seeing the products out there, the products, the players, you’re seeing more and more people watch the games, you’re seeing games being on national television.

So there’s no better time to get involved. And I want to help give back. I want to help give this sport everything that it gave me. And if I can help and just play a role, that’s really what it’s all about. So, it couldn’t have come at a better time, better team, and I’m just thrilled because I was able to play for this club for the last three years of my career, which is what I wanted. I wanted to end my career in New Jersey and with the whole rebranding now it’s been great. So I think the sky’s the limit with Gotham FC, and I’m just excited to finally be able to announce it and get to work and figure out how we can continue to make this one of the best clubs in the country and in the world.

Howard Megdal: The growth that we saw from the national team during your time there, it sounds like mirrors in a lot of ways where you want Gotham to go as a club. Do you think that’s fair to say? A lot of people talk about the national team as if there was always this sold out arena, but you helped build that, you helped create and turn it into the juggernaut that it has become. Do you feel like those are the types of lessons… And I’m curious if there are specifics from that experience as a player that you intend to bring into building a similar arc here as an owner?

Carli Lloyd: Absolutely. I started out with the national team in 2005. I think we were barely pushing 5,000 fans.

And that was for a really long time. And I would say things really started to build around the 2011 world cup. We actually lost, but when we came home to America, it was as if we had won. The American people were cheering for us and we couldn’t quite understand it because we felt like we let our country down. And then you fast forward to 2015 and it was just like everything aligned and everything just couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time, for the national team, for women’s soccer, for the country. And so, we’ve been riding that wave. And when I see some of the NWSL teams, who have been struggling with attendance and all of these things, it does take time.

I think that’s what we have to understand, but it also takes money and investment on the other hand. So, when you’re saying that the Spirit was sold for 35 or whatever million you said… And money pays, and that’s what we need to see. So if we can get the support, then there’s going to be more resources that are going to be provided. There’s going to be better playing conditions and travel and all of that. So I like what I’m seeing all across the league, the expansion teams that have come in have pushed everyone else to be better as well. So it’s exciting times.

Howard Megdal: And then just… Is five years from now a sold out Red Bull at every match, something that you think about? How do you quantify it when you think about what success looks like from an ownership perspective?

Carli Lloyd: For me, it starts on the field. When you win and when you score goals and you dominate, people love that. People don’t necessarily go to games when teams are losing. So that for me is the first and foremost. You have to put a good product out there, you have to win games, you have to compete for championships. And that’s ultimately where it starts. So it’s the player’s responsibility, it’s coach’s responsibility, it’s ownership, it’s GM, it’s everybody, to put the best team together possible out on the field. And so yes, with everything else, with the product and with the investment and the support and the resources, yes, I could see that in the next five years. I would love to see a sold out, packed Red Bull. I’ve played there when it’s been sold out, and it’s electrifying, it’s amazing.

So, there’s a lot of goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so things do take time. And when you try to do things the right way, they take a little bit longer, but I’m all for it. I have to fully believe in something to back something. And this club is going in the right direction.

Howard Megdal: And somebody who has covered sold out Red Bull Arena, that should be fun to see. I look forward to that very much. But your soccer itch, the actual play, is it gone? Are you playing casually? Are you playing at home? What do you do with that when those feelings come up, or do they not come up?

Carli Lloyd: To be completely honest, no. I haven’t… Aside from my clinics, aside from attending one of Gotham FC’s training session, I haven’t touched a ball, and I haven’t really desired to touch a ball. I’ve been doing a lot of other things, kayaking, getting out on my bike, still working out, I’m still running, doing hikes, just doing a lot of other things that I wasn’t able to do.

I’ll always love soccer. Soccer was a part of my life for 34 years. It’s given me everything, there’s so many priceless things that I owe to the round ball that I’ve kicked around for so long. But no. Yes, my 17 professional years, I emptied every ounce, I was probably in my reserves. I gave it everything I had. And I think there’s no better feeling than being able to walk away from a sport and not really miss it and enjoy this phase.

Howard Megdal: Well, I’m happy for you. I’m glad you’re getting to. And then the other part of this is just, I remember standing with you on the Reign after your first game of what was then Sky Blue, and you just talked about the project and about building it long term. And things have come so far over that period of time. I’m wondering how meaningful it is for to be able to see it through the way you’re talking about, and specifically to be able to see it through here in Jersey, which is obviously a place that means I know so much to you.

Carli Lloyd: Yes. I wasn’t around in the earlier Sky Blue days, when there was a lot that was said and done and happened, and… I was always a minimalist, I was always a player who just wanted to play. I just wanted to play and I wanted to have a great training environment and compete and try to win championships. And I think, definitely fighting for the right things, the things that matter, the things that are important, have gone over well with certain teams. I think there’s been a lot that has happened with Sky Blue and now into Gotham FC, and across the league as a whole. And I think it’s been really just eyeopening for a lot of teams, a lot of owners to really take a step back and figure out just the right way of doing things. And I think that’s the most important thing. So it’s really great to see. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen, but the most promising thing is it’s heading in the right direction. And I felt that towards the end of last season.

Howard Megdal:Well, and again, this is in so many ways become a player’s league. This is in a lot of ways, the club extension of the fight that you’ve been waging for years, unequal pay, on the national team side. But between the fact that there is now a union here, the fact that there is a CBA, which we’ve never had in NWSL before. Now, there is a legendary player in the owner’s box. It feels to the outside, like almost coming full circle. And I just, I wonder whether it feels that way to you too.

Carli Lloyd: It does. And I think you have to be careful. You don’t want this to fully just be a player’s league where they’re making all decisions and whatever they want they get.

Because I don’t believe in that as well, even when I was a player. There’s certain things that from a player’s standpoint is very vital and very important, but then there’s also things from an ownership standpoint that you just can’t waiver. And so I think that the most important thing is just prioritizing what is important. The fact that there is a union, a collective bargaining agreement, HR in the league, these things should have been there from day one, but they weren’t. And so now we’re almost building this from scratch, essentially, the way that it should have been, but it’s good. It’s a good time for women, women in sports, and the more people we can continue to get involved, the better the overall league will be.

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.