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Natalie Portman: Prejudice fuels lack of investment in women’s sports

Angel City FC founder talks process of building ownership group.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ 5th Annual “Make March Matter” Fundraising Campaign Kick-off Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

Surely you’ve looked at the ownership group of 2022 NWSL expansion team Angel City FC, which appears to be over 70 names and growing, and had a chuckle at the sheer size of the group assembled.

But rather than have one very rich person or a rich family spearhead running a pro sports team, perhaps the sizable ownership group for the Los Angeles women’s soccer team came as a result of necessity.

Team co-founder Natalie Portman indicated as much, when she talked about the process of bringing women’s pro soccer to the city on Julie Foudy’s “Laughter Permitted” podcast, part of which aired during the ESPNW Summit on Wednesday.

Foudy, who is also an investor in Angel City FC, alongside over a dozen other former U.S. Women’s National Team stars, asked Portman — who is credited with kickstarting the process originally — about how the venture came together.

Interestingly, Portman said the Time’s Up organization, which grew out of the Me Too movement, in which people, particularly women, shared experiences of being harassed, assaulted and/or marginalized, was the catalyst for bringing a diverse group of people together for Angel City FC.

“I think that that’s also the benefit of bringing women from different sectors because I would never know how to do anything on my own,” Portman, best known as a film actress, said on Foudy’s show. “Like I show up to work and say lines other people write for me like, I don’t know how to start something like this. So to have met Kara through Time’s Up and if people don’t know, Kara Nortman is a very successful venture capitalist in Los Angeles, supports many startup founders and she brought Julie Uhrman, who’s been just an incredible engine behind it and she figured out how for us to get the franchise. I’m always there of course to support, but they were the ones [who landed the team].

“And that’s the joy that everyone within the team has ... their own superpower and it’s been really complimentary and also again, one of these really rare benefits of having people across industries meet. I didn’t know that would have ever happened before,” she added.

Crucially, Los Angeles had long been mooted as a prime market for an NWSL team, but as we all know, nearly a decade passed between the founding of the league and an expansion team launching. It was clear there was not previously the drive by committed and resourceful owners to make it happen, but Portman laid bare the obstacles to finding investors.

“I was surprised by how hard it was,” she admitted. “There were certain people who surprised me in the most beautiful way of just being like, I’m in. Eva Longoria was like, ‘I’m in, what do you need? I want to be there,’ since she’s like a boss. But then, I would say more on the side of institutional people when they were really, really hesitant and reluctant. It just seems so clear that it’s so undervalued. That from a business perspective — and I’m not a business person so that’s probably why I’m missing why they were so hesitant, maybe or maybe it’s just purely, you know, prejudice. But I felt like, oh my god this is, this is really popular like people really love it. And nobody’s providing it like during the Women’s World Cup, you couldn’t buy T-shirts at the Nike store with like Alex Morgan, or Megan Rapinoe’s name on it. It was crazy. You’re like, why wouldn’t you just take advantage of this opportunity? These people are big stars.”

The U.S. Women’s National Team is arguably the most popular soccer team in the United States right now, and many of the stars are household names, capable not only of bringing people to games to watch them play, but also to serve as spokespeople and transcend the sport itself. Portman seems to understand the potential at play, but hasn’t seen proper investment so far.

“You feel like the market would dictate what you want to put on the air and what people want to sell, but it doesn’t feel like that for this, which does make you feel like it’s simply prejudice,” she said. “Because you’re like, OK, you could actually succeed a lot, you can do well by, you know, putting this out there and more so hopefully that’s what we aim to do is show how this can be successful.”

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