An old friend who used to play basketball with entrepreneur Julie Uhrman was the one who got her on board with bringing a professional women’s soccer team to Los Angeles.
Uhrman, an entrepreneur with a background in entertainment and gaming, was approached by Kara Nortman, a friend and partner at Upfront Ventures, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, about bringing a National Women’s Soccer League team to her hometown. Activist and actress Natalie Portman and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian are also behind the team.
Nortman met Portman through Time’s Up, the organization that was founded in the wake of the #MeToo movement and advocates for workplaces free of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination.
On Tuesday, the majority women-founded team behind Angel City — a placeholder name — announced that they aim to start playing in 2022.
“These are the best athletes in the world and we’re bringing them to — in my opinion — the best city in the world, Los Angeles,” Uhrman said. This is a stage “where we can promote, highlight and shine a light on them to continue to build awareness and grow a fan base for these incredible women soccer athletes and not have it happen every four years, but every single year, and here in the U.S.”
In addition to Urman, Nortman and Portman, the varied group of investors includes Serena Williams, Ohanian and their daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr.
“I’m personally investing on behalf of my family because creating more opportunities in women’s sports is important to my wife and me, and we want to be a part of making a better future for our daughter,” Ohanian said in statement.
Actors including Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria Baston also invested along with late-night host Lilly Singh. The team boasts more than a dozen former U.S. women’s national soccer players including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney Holiday.
We caught up with Uhrman as she “control-tabbed” between her Slack, Twitter and messaging apps after the announcement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Soo Youn: This whole ride must have been such a roller coaster for you. Was there a moment you thought, “Oh this is never going to happen?” Conversely was there one single moment when you knew it would all come together?
Julie Uhrman: I am an entrepreneur and optimist and there was never a moment I was going to give up. We faced a ton of rejections early in the process and we just kept putting one foot in front of the other and scheduling more and more meetings.
The moment I knew that this was going to happen no matter what was during our first conversation with Alexis Ohanian. He just saw the world exactly the same way we did. He understood that there's a different way to build a team and use products and software and storytelling as a way to accelerate excitement and awareness and engagement in a way that's done in other industries but hasn’t necessarily been done in sports. After that first call, it was very clear that this was destiny.
SY: Was there one thing he said that crystallized it all for you?
JU: We told him our story and he immediately started adding to it. He shared a conversation that he had with his wife Serena [Williams] about their daughter. She was kicking a soccer ball around the backyard and Alexis said, “Maybe she’ll be a professional soccer player one day.” And Serena probably half-jokingly said, “They don’t get paid.”
And he looked at her and said, “Challenge accepted. I have 16 years to make this happen.”
SY: How did this all come together?
JU: So the idea really began with Kara [Nortman] and Natalie [Portman]. They are both involved in Time’s Up in different ways. Kara’s on the board and Natalie has been a supporter. They were introduced to the women’s national team and became very aware of their pay equity fights. Over the year they had the opportunity to speak directly with the players and spent time with Becca Roux [executive director at U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association]. It just became more clear specifically to Natalie that we have the ability here in Los Angeles and through our very individual platforms to shine a light on these exceptional women athletes and grow the sport at the same time.
I think the U.S. women winning the 2019 World Cup just solidified the idea that they are exceptional players, they are the best in the world, their legacy continues and we need to have it in L.A. The fans deserve better, the city deserves better, the players deserve better.
In August 2019, Kara and I play in what we call the Wild Feminist Women in Tech Basketball League — we actually used to play basketball against each other when we were young — and she knows that I’m a huge sports fan and an entrepreneur and asked me if I wanted to join her and Natalie in figuring out how to build a women’s professional soccer team, how to bring it to Los Angeles and how to think differently about the capitalization and the process of bringing it to life.
So from August until now that’s what we’ve been working on — building our brand, building our mission, finding investors who believe like we do with the culmination of announcing it.
SY: You’ve got some big name investors. Why was it important to get buy in from Hollywood people?
JU: We went after people who believed in our mission. We spoke to people who believe that this is sports and entertainment, that this is a platform and we can engage and act locally but also entertain globally, where mission and capital can coexist.
We found like-minded partners in the entertainment space because these are women who in their own right are activists and storytellers. We want to tell stories about the league, about our team, about the players and our fans in our community because that'll bring additional attention to them and continue to grow the sport.
We started talking to people and realized that we could really run this process like it’s a start-up. We’re doing this differently.
We're not a legacy team. We're not legacy sports executives. So we bring a different perspective from our own experiences. We intend to write a new playbook where we reshape expectations and think differently about ownership and ticketing partnership and community collaboration.
SY: You speak a lot about mission and this team. What exactly does that mean?
JU: Our purpose is to set higher expectations on and off the field and how we show up in our community as well as on the playing field. That means the contributions we make to young girls and boys in our community and how we help them. They connect through sports, playing sports longer and bringing sports to those that haven’t had access to it before. It means telling the stories of these incredible players and this incredible league and this incredible city so that you can create an emotional connection with them and want to show up at these games and cheer them on because they are truly the best players in the world. And it means that we’re creating a platform where we can leverage our celebrity and leverage the attention to really create an environment where every young girl believes that they can be a professional women’s soccer player.