Angel City Football Club (ACFC) didn’t happen overnight. ACFC and Monarch Collective Co-founder Kara Nortman and ACFC President and Co-founder Julie Uhrman struggled for years to lift their dream off the ground. The first potential investor they spoke to told them no. Then, another. And another. The pair received over 100 rejections before they finally secured funding, thanks to their commitment to something greater than sports.
Despite (or possibly because of) the obstacles, they’re now regarded as innovators, pioneers, and game-changers. On October 6th, Nortman, Uhrman, and ACFC investor, activist, actress and Trojan Sophia Bush, sat down with USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay and USC Marshall Dean Geoff Garrett for a discussion on the past, present, and future of women’s sports.
“We used to think of women’s sports as a smaller version of men’s sports, but they are a really unique entity in which culture and commerce and media and entertainment all come together in very unique and different ways,” said Bay. “The ACFC story is one of the most exciting in sports, and it begins with the team that these women created.”
Bay’s observations rang true for Uhrman and Nortman. When founding ACFC, they envisioned a club that could do more than win games or make profit. They dreamt of a team that could inspire.
“When we pitched the concept of Angel City, we wanted to be an organization where mission and capital could coexist,” Uhrman said. “We wanted to be a platform that stands for equity impact in every single thing that we do. And we’re going to use sports and this idea of building a community to create a sense of belonging to ultimately to drive toward equity — and bend the curve toward gender equity and pay equity. So we’re more than a sports team.”
ACFC isn’t the first sports team or corporation to pledge itself to humanitarianism. All too often companies don’t follow through on promises of social impact. But it was crucial for Uhrman that Angel City be different and in doing so, ultimately transform the culture of sports.
“We said right away we have to walk the talk. We never wanted to give the community an opportunity to say you’re only here in name only,” Uhrman said. “We’ve given 22,000 bras to young girls. We’ve donated over a million meals to date. We’ve helped over 140 coaches get employed. We’ve thrown 833 events. We’ve done grants and scholarships of $143,000. We’ve got 8,300 hours of programming for soccer. We wanted to make sure we were authentic.”
How can a team existing in a success-driven arena divide its attention between the field, the community, and the bottom line? Bush believed ACFC was specially equipped for just that task.
“The traditional methodologies of businesses run by men are singular in focus,” Bush said. “As women, because we’re used to facing more obstacles, because we’re used to being paid less, because we’re used to having to do more with less resources, we manage to spin a lot of plates at the same time.”
The principles of equity and inclusion existed from day one at ACFC. A vast majority of the club’s investors are women, including celebrities, athletes, and activists like Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King, and many more. For these women and their fellow investors, giving to the club meant serving a vastly overlooked group: female sports fans.
“We haven’t been acknowledged as women that are sports fans,” Bush said. “This is a moment that has taken generations to build, and people go, ‘Why did Barbie make a billion dollars? Why did Beyonce and Taylor Swift’s tours do what they did this summer?’ People look at women as though what we want [is] somehow not valuable. And nobody wants to watch us? L-O-L. Look what we’ve done.”
What they’ve done is create the most valuable women’s sports team in the United States. Currently, ACFC’s estimated worth is $180 million, double that of their next closest NWSL competitor. Some experts even purport that the club may be the most valuable women’s sports team anywhere in the world — one result of a significant trend in female athletics.
This past summer, the FIFA Women's World Cup shattered records across the board, including in attendance, television ratings, and revenue. Additionally, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament viewership numbers were up, while the men’s were down. By all accounts, these are unprecedented times for female athletes, and ACFC is leading the charge.
“This is an incredible story,” Garrett said. “We’re talking about one of the most amazing stories certainly in American sports and probably in global sports that’s happened in such real time.”
Despite the odds, Nortman and Uhrman don’t completely buy the narrative that women’s sports face an uphill battle. They believe there’s an obvious opportunity — especially in Los Angeles — to flourish with a strong community of fans.
“People used to say to us: ‘Why does LA need an 11th professional sports team?’ That’s such a crazy question, and we had to answer it every single day,” said Nortman. “We’re a county of 14 million people. We’re asking twenty thousand people to show up eleven times a year and have fun.... You start there, and all the other revenue streams flow from that.”
Revenue is just one piece of the puzzle. For Nortman and Uhrman, they strive for much more, and they hope their staff and players do too.
“We just have the most extraordinary team. To work in women’s sports is to work in mission,” Nortman said. “The people that are going to do the best work are dedicating their lives to it.”
As Angel City continues to win on and off the field, it appears that others may join that calling as well, whether it be as investors, players or fans in the stands.
The livestream of this special Deans’ Dialogue is available here.