Serena Williams: US Women’s ‘A’ Lister and Reddit Co-Founder Set to Disrupt Soccer Industry with Angel City



CNN

For Alexis Ohanian last summer, it started with a simple phone call. The entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit was in London and his friend wanted him to come to Paris: “It’s like, you’re an idiot if you don’t come down to watch the USA play France.”

Soon after, Ohanian was with 45,000 other fans watching Megan Rapinoe score twice for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup, leading her country to what would be a fourth world title .

“It was definitely my first time at a women’s soccer game,” she told CNN Sport, “and the crowd was electric. I walked away from it thinking, how did I not pay enough attention? How I didn’t even know there was a professional league in America?”

A few days later, he and his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, were watching the finals of the tournament on television. His young daughter Olympia was running in the jersey of one of the team’s star players, Alex Morgan.

Ohanian wondered aloud about the possibility of Olympia one day playing the match professionally, but Serena cut him off.

“Without missing a beat, my wife was like, not until she gets paid what she’s worth. And I was kind of kidding, but not really.”

At the time, Ohanian says he felt compelled to try to make a positive contribution to the world of women’s sports, “Okay girl,” he declared, “challenge accepted!”

Upfront Ventures Partner Kara Nortman, 22 Capital Group Founder Tracy Gray and Lightspeed Venture Partners Partner Nicole Quinn speak on stage at the 2018 Girlboss Rally at Magic Box on April 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

READ: Megan Rapinoe says ‘we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place’

Twelve months later, ‘Angel City’ has become a reality. Ohanian is a lead investor in a new Los Angeles soccer 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 been added since then, and the league will reach double figures in 2021 when Racing Louisville FC joins. The following season, Angel City will field 11 teams in the league.

According to Angel City President Julie Uhrman, the idea for this new team came about during Portman’s involvement with Time’s Up, a movement established in 2018 to combat sexual harassment.

“You can see that she really gets behind causes that are important to her and does meaningful work for those causes,” Uhrman told CNN Sport, adding, “She wanted to take her commitment to elevate athletics women, address pay equity and make it public and meaningful.”

Promoting the release of Angel City in July, Portman spoke about the challenges that have traditionally held back women’s sports. I was talking on Instagram with someone who has experienced it firsthand for the past 20 years: Williams.

“Our team told me that only 4% of sports coverage is women’s sports,” Portman said, “It’s crazy that we’re here in 2020 and it’s so disproportionate.”

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian attend the 2018 Brand Genius Awards at Cipriani 25 Broadway on November 7, 2018 in New York City.

READ: Alexis Ohanian on being married to Serena Williams

The team, which does not yet have an official name – Angel City is just a nickname – and will not play until 2022. But it is already clear that those behind the club are doing things differently.

For one, the founding investors are almost exclusively women, “I think you can count the number of clubs that are primarily owned by women on one hand and probably on just a couple of fingers,” Uhrman told CNN, “I say, is very unusual.”

The club’s website lists the 31 founding investors and only four are men; Alexis Ohanian is one of those strange men.

He described an early meeting with Uhrman, Portman and venture capitalist Kara Nortman, “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 very important from the very beginning day to have a majority team of women.

“I think we can talk about so many of the disparities in professional sports. And I think one of the ways to bring about real change is not just to show that this is an amazing business that’s going to generate a lot of money and a lot of attention and a lot of success, but it is also showing that every part of how this organization is run can be different and be, if not more successful as a result.

“And not because it feels good, although it does feel good, but because it’s absurd that it’s not more normal.”

The club knows they are trying to swim against the tide, and not just because they aim to change the perception of professional women’s sport; they are also launching a club in an already saturated Los Angeles sports market.

American actress Natalie Portman arrives for the 92nd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California on February 9, 2020.

READ: Natalie Portman and Serena Williams are among the investors behind Angel City

Uhrman breaks down the clubs they’ll soon rub shoulders with in a city notorious for congestion: “Los Angeles is a market where there are already nine professional sports teams and [collegiate] centers such as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.

So even the idea of ​​bringing another professional sports team here, the third football club here, is an ambitious and big idea.”

But Angel City believes its new approach will cut through the noise, establishing a local, community club with global appeal. “We know that women’s soccer has been incredibly successful during the Olympics and the World Cup,” says Uhrman.

“The question is, why do they get so much attention every four years? And I think the answer is because of exposure and awareness.”

Behind the key investors is a cast of Hollywood stars, including Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Jessica Chastain, plus Serena Williams and 14 former US women’s national team players; is a group of women with tens of millions of followers on social networks; they will use their collective platforms to shout it from the rooftops.

“There’s this general problem that if you can’t see it,” Uhrman says, “you can’t be it. If you can’t see it, you can’t follow it. [If] you can’t encourage it, you can’t get your friend to be a part of it, and so there’s a systemic problem that we need to fix and change.”

OUYA founder Julie Uhrman speaks onstage at the Julie Uhrman + Josh Topolsky Keynote during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Uhrman continues: “We have a group of people that come from the entertainment space, the media space, the sports space and the technology space. We’re thinking that football is bigger than sports, we really are. as entertainment”.

Ohanian says the focus will be on social media storytelling to build the brand and it seems to be working already, “tens of thousands of people are really excited, [we’ve] sold-out merchandise for a team that doesn’t exist yet.”

He compares women’s football with eSports, which generated huge investment five years ago, and concluded that the market has massively undervalued women’s football.

“They are clubs of players, young men who attract hundreds of millions of fans worldwide. [But] the average American doesn’t know who the best League of Legends player is, while Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are already cultural icons.

“From a marketing standpoint, no offense to eSports, they’re much more marketable for brands that want to be aligned with consumer spending in this country.”

In her conversation with Williams on Instagram, Portman noted that Angel City has already changed the conversation, “people are starting to think about how to do it in other sports as well.”

Women advocate and uplift other women; sisters do it for themselves. It’s an LA story that could have a Hollywood ending, and it’s a potential game changer for women’s sports everywhere.

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