Actress Natalie Portman and venture capitalist Kara Nortman lead a group that will bring an expansion National Women's Soccer League team to the Los Angeles area in 2022.
The team, tentatively named Angel City, will bring the league to 11 teams. Louisville FC will join the nine current NWSL clubs next season.
Portman and Nortman are joined by gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, the cornsortium's president in the majority-female group. Others involved include actors Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner and Uzo Aduba.
Tech entrepreneur and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, the husband of tennis star Serena Williams, is the lead investor through his firm Initialized Capital. Portman, Nortman and Uhrman all have a financial stake in the team.
“I think it’s so important to have role models and and heroes that are women for kids — both boys and girls — to see. And, it’s just such an incredible sport in that it really is a team sport,” Portman said in an interview with The Associated Press. "You see one woman’s success and all the others are cheering her on because one woman’s success is the whole team’s success.”
Among the founding group are more than a dozen former players, including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy, as well as other female business leaders.
Portman said she heard Wambach, a former U.S. national team forward, speak at a Time's Up event and started thinking about how female athletes are regarded in society. Then she and Nortman met Becca Roux, the executive director of the U.S. Women's National Team Players Association.
“We started going to games and we just got so into it. And it was just kind of a revolution to see my son and his friends, these little 8-year-old boys at the time, wanting to wear their Rapinoe jerseys. And Alex Morgan jerseys. I was like, 'Wow, this would be a different world.′ It wasn’t unusual to them at all," Portman said.
There were hints that the group was coming together last year when Portman, Gardner, Longoria and other celebrities went to a national team exhibition game at LAFC's stadium before the World Cup.
The women also reached out to a local supporters group that has been campaigning to bring a team to Los Angeles. The plan is to bring on additional investors as the team takes shape.
“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?'" Uhrman said.
The group is partnering with the LA84 Foundation, a nonprofit formed after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that promotes youth sports. Angel City also announced its formal support of the foundation's Play Equity Fund, aimed at helping kids in minority and underserved communities.
“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," Uhrman said. “And so it’s important for us to do that from Day 1. In the same way that we are building to put 11 incredible players on the field from Day 1.”
The NWSL, which began play in 2013, was the first professional team sport to return to action in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Challenge Cup tournament in Utah. The semifinals are set for Wednesday.
The official name of the Los Angeles club, and where it will play, are expected to be announced later this year.
“The growth trajectory of the NWSL is incredibly exciting, but we also need to be strategic and thoughtful about how fast we expand and the communities we partner with,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve long sought the right partner in LA considering the NWSL fanbase that already exists in the region and the massive interest in women’s soccer in general."
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