Natalie Portman, one of the founders of Angel City FC.
Natalie Portman, one of the founders of Angel City FC.

Angel City FC: An in-vitro football sensation

A womens’ team led by celebrities

Natalie Portman wearing a football jersey for a press kit? Uzo Aduba and Christina Aguilera sitting on the board of a football club? Becky G passionate about the beautiful game? In 2020, the announcement of a new football club to play in the US NWSL took the world by storm.

A group of A-listers from the worlds of media and capital launched the next big thing in women’s football. Though enormous influxes of money into football have been controversial all around the globe, they hardly come with virtuous agendas, like in the case of this club. This is the story of Angel City FC, or how a group of powerful women with a mission set out to change the world of womens’ football forever.

The journey

Venture capitalist Kara Nortman is one of the founders of the club. A disappointing experience during the Womens’ World Cup Finals marked the beginning of her journey. After attending a game, Kara set out to buy some womens’ US national team jerseys for her and her family. This proved to be impossible. The women’s jerseys she was after were simply not sold anywhere. Kara identified a gap in the market and began toying with the idea of one day having her own club. Her interest was shared by her friend and fellow teammate in a women in tech basketball team, tech executive Julie Uhrman.

The pair met Academy award winning actress Natalie Portman at another US women’s national team game, who attended with a group of high profile actresses, among which Serena Williams, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Garner, most of whom are now involved in the club. Portman, also an active member of Time’s Up and long standing advocate for women’s rights, was enthusiastic about the idea from the start. The lack of equal pay, the precarious conditions female footballers face such as lack of pension schemes and career opportunities beyond retirement, and the firm belief that the women’s game deserves as much exposure as the men’s were all the driving forces behind the project. The stars seemed to align for the trio: they had a clear vision, investment, a platform, and knowledge of management and the business world. In July 2020, the foundation of Angel City FC was finally announced.

The club DNA: idealism and business acumen

The women-majority owned and run ACFC brings a fresh, cutting edge vision to the world of football. Their clear focus on gender equality is a welcome addition to football, where traditional clubs often fail to stimulate the cause to the extent it deserves. Despite this focus, this is not the only cause they support. The club has secured partnerships with various companies in order to carry out charitable activities in the LA area. Safety and improved conditions for their athletes is another priority of the club.

The importance of marketing and business development cannot be underestimated in the case of ACFC. Portman was quoted as saying that she and her associates hadn’t built a club, they had built a brand. Their search for investors started modestly but at some point they found themselves overwhelmed by the amounts of people wanting to chip in – mostly A listers from the worlds of finance and the arts. ACFC has also revealed much of their branding and marketing strategies, such as their concepts for their jerseys and their crest. Their focus as of now, besides the purely football related, is to build a fan base through the use of social media. Their strategy seems to be working well, as ACFC sold out all tickets to their first ever game this year.

The project finally took off on the 20th of March 2022, when Angel City played their first NWSL game and faced the San Diego Waves resulting in a 1-1 draw. Exciting times are ahead for the club. Can this experiment live up to the hype?

Thinking points: can good values and good football be engineered?

The value of the principles behind the foundation of Angel City FC are beyond doubt: gender equality, higher visibility for the womens’ game, and bringing new ideas from other disciplines to the pitch. In and of themselves, these values are all laudable. Angel City FC could potentially join the ranks of clubs like Forest Green, which are privately owned by magnates and have virtuous agendas and identities. Despite its success in inserting itself in the National Women’s Soccer League, a few nagging questions remain. To what extent can the culture of football, its following, or the common identity it creates be engineered in a boardroom? How can powerful investors and their millions draw new people into the sport? Is the creation and culture of Angel City FC an expression of American corporate culture that clashes with the classic cooperative tradition of football in Europe and South America or can the distance be bridged?

Find out more

Read more about Angel City FC’s creation and their identity on their website. Also interesting: this exposè from the Guardian.

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Natalie Portman, one of the founders of Angel City FC.
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Tim Sparv in 2011 (Photo: Petteri Lehtonen).
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