Celebrities back new women’s football team in Los Angeles

Tennis champion Serena Williams and her entrepreneur husband Alexis Ohanian, along with Hollywood actress Natalie Portman, are among a consortium of investors in a new professional women’s football team in Los Angeles.

The launch of the team, operating with the temporary name Angel City, underscores the continued growth of the sport, which has rebounded faster during the pandemic than other US leagues.

Angel City will bring to 10 the number of teams in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US. The NWSL is wrapping up an abbreviated 2020 season this month after signing three new national sponsors since the pandemic began.

The new team is expected to start playing in 2022. A valuation for the club was not disclosed.

Natalie Portman is among the celebrities behind Angel City © Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Mr Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, led the investment through his venture fund, Initialized Capital, according to a club statement.

His two-year-old daughter with Ms Williams, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, is listed among fellow investors, who also include actors Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Uzo Aduba, US football stars Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, as well as venture capitalist Kara Nortman and Netflix executive Cindy Holland, among others.

It will join a landscape of prominent professional sports clubs in the US’s second-largest media market, including the LA Lakers and LA Clippers (basketball), LA Dodgers (baseball) and LA Galaxy (men’s football).

“With nine professional teams and [college sports] powerhouses USC and UCLA, isn’t it high time that we also have a women’s soccer team to rally behind?” Julie Uhrman, Angel City president, said on the club’s website.

Currently in its eighth season, the NWSL has outlasted two previous iterations of professional women’s football in the US, which boasts a world-beating national team but is still working to translate its success into mainstream domestic popularity. 

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Viewing figures for the NWSL’s first match after the pandemic lockdown more than tripled the league’s all-time record.

Football analysts say that the women’s game tends to be undervalued, including one study after last summer’s World Cup which estimated $1.2bn in untapped sponsorship potential.

Celebrity ownership stakes in professional football teams are also on the rise. Tony Parker, the former basketball star, earlier this year became a minority owner in the OL Reign, an NWSL club based in Seattle.

Current Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant took a stake in the men’s league’s Philadelphia Union last month.