Angel City FC sold out its first ever match in the US National Women’s Soccer League. But it aims to be more than just a success on the pitch, thanks to its star-studded backers like tennis veteran Billie-Jean King.
The first game of the season in the US National Women’s Soccer League shattered the previous attendance record.
It was part of a general upturn in popularity for the women’s game.
What boosted it even further though, were the 22,000 fans who turned out for Angel City’s first ever game.
“Now you know you’re in LA. Alright, off we go! Kick-off in the Banc of California Stadium, two years in the making to get Angel City FC from a dream to a reality. And now the actual soccer begins.”Angel City FC
They beat Carolina Courage 2-1 but that’s not the only way that Angel City FC has been making history.
This new team has been backed by some of Hollywood and sport’s biggest stars and it’s the largest female-led ownership group in professional sport. Angel City was unveiled in 2020 by actress Natalie Portman and a group of venture capitalists.
She said that watching her son idolise Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan – in the same way he did Lionel Messi or Karim Benzema – she realised that amplifying female athletes could “rapidly shift culture.”
And now, there’s more than 100 investors in Angel City FC. Tennis legends Serena Williams and Billie-Jean King followed, as well as A-Listers like Eva Longoria and Jennifer Garner and a number of former US Women’s National Team players, including Abby Wambach.
Billie-Jean King says that it’s taken “forever” for people to believe in women’s sport. But now, it’s taking off.
“For women’s soccer, you know, Barcelona had over 91,000 people the other night. It’s starting to happen, that tipping point. And we’re good for business, we’re good for community…”Boardroom
Billie-Jean King has been fighting for equal rights for women for decades. In 1973 – at the age of 29 – she beat 55-year-old male Bobby Riggs in a tennis match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”
She became the first female athlete to earn over 100,000 dollars in prize money, and she says the things she used to dream of when she was younger are finally coming true.
So aside from female owners and a female team, how is Angel City FC different from the rest?
Angel City FC players receive a cut of ticket sales, they’re promised excellent working conditions, and they’ll benefit from training after their playing careers have ended.
Natalie Portman explained why on ABC News’s Good Morning America.
“We want to value these players the way they deserve to be… and I think for too long female athletes have really not been… not been given the compensation they deserve, they’ve not been given the attention they deserve, and they’ve not been given the empathy they deserve. They’re huge stars already…”Natalie Portman, Good Morning America
One of those stars is striker Christen Press.
She was the first to sign for the team…and immediately became one of the highest paid players in the league with a salary of half a million dollars per year. Here she is, on the same programme…
“We’re playing for something that’s bigger than, you know, the game on the field. Playing for what this club symbolises in terms of equity across gender, racial inclusion, sexual orientation…”Natalie Portman, Good Morning America
It’s been 12 years since Los Angeles had a women’s soccer team. The previous side – the LA Sol – folded in 2010. So for many young girls there, Angel City’s first match was a pivotal moment.
Reporter: “For some it has been a lifetime since LA has seen something like this. Abbie Torres has never had the chance to see women’s pro soccer in her home town… until today.”
Young spectator: “It’s a women’s team and I’m a girl so when I watch them, it inspires me since I play soccer. It just inspires me to do many things.”abc News
And because there are so many high-profile backers, the team is bound to be in the spotlight.
At the first match, one Dad who had been in the crowd with his young daughter was excited to say that this had been a normal experience for her. That she didn’t know anything had existed before Los Angeles had a prominent women’s team.
Surely that makes the decades of striving all worthwhile for a veteran like Billie-Jean King.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Imy Harper.