The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, August 3, 2020
Circling back to Angel City after the Challenge Cup final, and what might be next for expansion — Plus links galore — Interview with Angel City president Julie Uhrman
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I just got back from a week off following the Challenge Cup final. Needed to reset. Was handling both the NWSL and MLS tournaments and it was A LOT OF SCREEN TIME. So it was good to step back.
Since I focused on the Challenge Cup final and what’s next for the NWSL in my last post, I wasted to circle back and hit on Angel City and expansion.
First off, that’s apparently only a temporary name, but I like it.
I am impressed with what I’ve heard so far. Natalie Portman and Kara Nortman did their due diligence, and together with Julie Uhlman and Alexis Ohanian they form a formidable team. You can hear more about how the group came together below with my interview with Uhlman.
But I wanted to talk briefly about where NWSL expansion goes from here. Commissioner Lisa Baird said in her State of the League press conference that the Challenge Cup spurred interest in expansion teams.
She said she has three guiding principles for expansion: An attractive market, strong ownership and perhaps most importantly, what makes sense for the league.
My sources tell me there are (still) two strong possibilities at this point: Sacramento and Atlanta. But both efforts have slowed to a crawl because of the coronavirus and the financial impact it has had.
COVID-19 has already delayed Sacramento Republic’s debut in Major League Soccer until 2023.
On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee newspaper addressed the NWSL situation here.
It’s also worth noting that the WPSL team, the California Storm, late last year filed for a trademark and added Brandi Chastain and Leslie Osborne to its board of directors — perhaps signaling a jump to the NWSL?
Atlanta’s interest also remains on the table, but with no specific timetable. The Atlanta United’s ownership group confirmed the possibility of joining the NWSL last year. The hangup then, as it still is now, is what role U.S. Soccer will take in the league going forward. The NWSL wants independence, but has asked for financial support from the federation. After failing to strike a deal last December, the USSF maintains oversight of the league through this year.
There are ongoing rumors of interest in Nashville, Minnesota and even Canada. Stay tuned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a 12th team is added by the end of the year. Because everyone likes balance.
(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com.)
Sandra Herrera for CBS Sports on what can be learned from the NWSL’s bubble.
Caitlin Murray also suggests that other leagues can learn from the NWSL for Yahoo Sports.
Annie Costabile for the Chicago Sun Times on the Red Stars having plenty to build on.
Nice TV spot on Averie Collins, the NWSL’s first player from Montana.
Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel looks at whether the Pride will play this year.
The Dash had a drive-through party to celebrate the Challenge Cup title.
A plan from The Women’s Game to keep W-League talent from going to Europe.
SI says TV ratings prove that women’s sports are on the rise.
In praise of Kelli Hubly from Grant Little of All For XI.
Keeper Notes on Dash coach James Clarkson establishing himself.
The Equalizer took a look at the players who deserved a national team look after the Challenge Cup.
The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta praises the NWSL for pulling off the Challenge Cup.
Interesting story here on Sabina Khatun of Bangladesh from FIFA.com.
Brandi Chastain spoke to the Women’s Football Show.
Rachel Daly is “open” to a Women’s Super League loan.
This is important, and it relates to all of us: Players say coronavirus has impacted their mental health, from the Telegraph.
TWEET of the Week
Not to do free advertising for Nike, but geez this is good.
Oh, and this from Kayla. We are in complete agreement.
Five at The IX: Julie Uhrman, President of Angel City
I spoke with Julie Uhrman, President of Angel City, about the NWSL’s newest expansion team.
Question: So how did this all come together?
Julie Uhrman: So the idea really started with Kara Nortman and Natalie Portman. They become friends through the work with Times Up and got to meet Becca Roux, who is the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association union rep and really got to learn more about the league, the players and the NWSL, in addition to the U.S. women’s national team’s pay equity fight. And over the course of about a year, they had met periodically, they did a symposium with Times Up to discuss the issue, and then Natalie arranged for a bunch of her friends to join Becca and Kara at a U.S. team friendly match at the Banc of California Stadium that also happened to be a celebration of the 99ers’ 20th anniversary, where they really got to see the players in action. Then following the World Cup, where they won, Natalie started blowing up Kara’s phone with a text saying `We should bring a team to L.A.’
So in the middle of August, Kara told me that she and Natalie were talking about bringing a women’s professional soccer team to Los Angeles and would I be willing to help them? It was interesting to me to come on board and lead this effort. And it wasn’t more than six days later that the three of us were at the Banc of California, the El Trafico game, watching the LA Galaxy play LAFC, where we saw firsthand just the level of excitement, passion and dedication of soccer fans in Los Angeles, specifically the 3252. And then right in the middle of the 3252 is Mark and Lindsay Rojas who are waving a flag that said, Bring NWSL to L.A. So we knew that we were onto something. We knew that there would be a strong and passionate supporters group here to support this.
And from there it was about, How do we do this in the right way? How do we do this differently? How do we cross milestones and build value and bring on investors at the right time, to not only establish our core goals, but accelerate our growth. Unike how traditionally how sports franchises come to life, which is you go to league with an ownership group and the money and a stadium or these types of older stadiums, we came to the league and said we have this very unique approach. We are going to build value as we go. We’re going to bring our key investors that believe in our mission, believe in the intersection between mission and capital, sports and entertainment, local community involvement and global entertainment, and we are going to build this team as we build value. So from the beginning, from the middle of August through today, it has been a journey.
Question: Are you guys are going to play at LAFC’s stadium?
Julie Uhrman: We are going to announce the venue with which we’ll play sometime before the end of the year.
Question: What I found interesting about the announcement is you guys are kind of partnering with the community and bringing soccer to young people and especially people in kind of marginalized communities. Can you tell me about why you included that component?
Julie Uhrman: We think we think of this as bigger than a game. We think that this is a platform where we can bring mission and capital together. We want to build a global brand and we want to entertain globally, but we also know that we have to act locally. And it is important to us to show up in our community and make a difference. To help us think through that, we’ve partnered with the LA84 Foundation to be our social impact partner so that we can use force as a tool to address social injustice in the brown and black community. We are building a team for Los Angeles. We believe the city deserves better from a soccer perspective, it deserves better from a fan perspective.
We believe these players need to be playing on one of the best stages in the world. But we also know that we have the power and the platform and the voice to make a meaningful impact in our community. And so it’s important for us to do that from Day 1. In the same way that we are building to put eleven incredible players on the field from Day 1.
Question: What was the thing that convinced you that this was a good idea? Was there one thing that struck you that it was like, OK, this this this could work?
Julie Uhrman: I’ll preface this by saying I’m an entrepreneur, so I believe all things are possible. I have brought things to life that didn’t exist before. I built an Android game console for the television before Apple and Amazon and Google even entered the phase of bringing Android operating systems to TV. And I’m also a passionate sports fan who played sports for her entire life. Having said that, the one thing that made me believe that this was possible and would be successful are the players. These players are stars and they have transcended the sport in the way that they have built connection to the fans, in the way that they show up on the field.
I mean, I can do a Megan Rapinoe pose right now everybody knows who is doing it and when she did it and why she did it. That transcends the sport. And through the use of social, they have been able to continue their interaction with fans and myself as a fan. So I get to know who they are, not only as an athlete, but personally, as a brand, as a social activist. The ability for these incredible athletes who are unarguably the best in the world to be able to connect with me on a one-to-one basis, if I can give them a platform that is the second largest digital media market in the world, and put together an ownership group who are experts at both telling stories and building soccer clubs, there was no question in our mind that we would be incredibly successful and grow this league and bring something really wonderful to the community of L.A.
Question: So I’m going to I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Your group, which is really star studded and has a lot of really big names associated with it, but convince me that, in your words, why you’re serious about this.
Julie Uhrman: When you start any business, there are things that you’re good at. And then you have blindspots. And the really successful people know how to address the blindspots as early as possible. I know how to build a brand. I know how to build a community. I know how to bring a product to life. Kara Nortman knows how to raise money. Natalie Portman knows how to bring awareness to causes that she cares about. So we knew we had those bases covered, but we also knew that we didn’t know how to build a soccer operations business and how to put players on the field and how to coach those players to be successful and to be champions. So what you see in our ownership group is this incredibly broad group of athletes and activists, technologists, venture capitalists and entertainers who are truly experts in what they do, and their involvement in this business is not solely in their financial commitments. In fact, we didn’t just want their money. We needed them to believe in our mission and we need them to believe that this is bigger than a game, that we have a platform where we can deliver on both mission and capital, we can both entertain and make a difference locally in our community. They all raised their hand. These are like-minded people who are passionate about soccer, they’re passionate about pay equity for women, they are passionate about the LA community and how even though we have 11 professional teams, including USC, UCLA, it is absolutely unacceptable that the best players in the world in their sport, women’s professional soccer players, don’t have a home here.
Question: Diving into this project, what have you learned that you didn’t know about women’s soccer? What has that been like?
Julie Uhrman: Oh, I mean, I am still learning and growing every single day as it relates to the sport of soccer. If you ask me to label each position on the field, I’m pretty sure I cannot do that. it today. I am working on it. As part of my education and the learning process, I have truly, as a fan, fallen in love with soccer. I am wanting Bundesliga, I’m watching the English Premier League. I am watching the docu-series, The Man City. And now I consider myself a diehard Man City fan. I’m getting up early and watching MLS play in the MLS is Back tournament. I am a huge consumer soccer now and truly love it, and understand why it is the global sport.
Question: What has been the timeline? How long is it how long has it been to put this together?
Julie Uhrman: Natalie and Kara started talking with the U.S. women’s national team, with representatives from the team, Becca Roux, who runs the players association, through their involvement with Time’s Up. So they have been tight with this group of women, for most of 2019. Kara brought the idea to me on August 18th, and literally six days later the three of us were at the El Trafico game. So we’ve been working on it, I’ve been working on it nonstop since August of 2019.
Question: Did you did you watch the World Cup and did you ever think that at that point you would be spearheading an effort to bring women’s soccer to L.A.?
Julie Uhrman: Not in a million years. I mean, for one reason, it just seems impossible to launch a professional team of any kind today given the amount of money that is required to do it. They’re also no role models out there of women doing it. And there are no alternative business models than the traditional one of having all the money on Day 1, having a stadium or you build the stadium. So there wasn’t a scenario out there that I could look to and say, yeah, I can follow that and do that.’ We had to make our own. And that’s what we’re doing now. We’re completely rethinking the business model. We’re gonna reshape expectations on and off the field. We’re going to have higher expectations from our owners and our players and our fans and our community and really approach it like it’s a startup and build value as we go.