Star-studded investors and ‘FOMO moments’ – how Angel City are blazing a trail

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are among Angel City’s star-studded investors (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are among Angel City’s star-studded investors (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

Angel City’s inaugural box office and attendance figures would seem eye-watering to most Women’s Super League marketing departments.

The Los Angeles-based National Women’s Soccer League club, which boasts Serena Williams, Natalie Portman and Billie Jean King among its star-studded investor group, is drawing an average of 19,000 fans per game in its debut season.

Angel City smashed their season ticket sales target of 5,000, with 16,000 committing for the full first campaign.

The NWSL has not even reached its post-season and Angel City’s play-off hopes are pinned in part on the success of fellow league debutants San Diego Wave this weekend, but 90 per cent of those season ticket holders have already committed for another year.

“The fact that we set such high goals for ourselves allowed us to achieve and surpass them,” Angel City founder and president Julie Uhrman told the PA news agency at the Leaders Week sport business conference.

“We didn’t walk into the Banc of California Stadium that seats 22,000 people and say ‘we want to put 5,000 people in here, or we want to put 10,000 people in here’. It was ‘how do we sell this out’?

“It was ‘how do we create something so compelling and so unique that there’s a FOMO moment, where if you’re not there you’re missing out’?”

Last weekend’s North London derby set a record attendance of 47,367 as Arsenal beat Tottenham at the Emirates in the WSL, now in its 13th season.

It was notable, in part for the still-sporadic chance to see a top-flight women’s side at a Premier League ground. Arsenal’s Meadow Park ground holds just 4,500; Kingsmeadow, home to champions Chelsea, has a capacity of 4,850.

The derby was one of two matches at Premier League venues over the weekend, attracting a record 89,381 across the entire WSL – a figure Angel City would hit by themselves within five matches at their current average.

So could Keira Knightley and Adele buy their own WSL side? It is not quite that simple, but Angel City’s success could serve as inspiration or even assurance for future investors.

The WSL still remains under the control of the Football Association, with plans to soon move the English women’s top flight and step-two Championship into a separate subsidiary with the FA as a shareholder as it explores plans that could include eventual private ownership or Premier League involvement.

Angel City’s lengthy investor and ownership list also includes former FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach, singer Christina Aguilera and actor Jennifer Garner.

It also boasts technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, husband to 23-time grand slam winner Williams. Even their five-year-old daughter, Olympia, is part-owner.

That most of Angel City’s key investors and decision makers are women is by design. The club is one of the only majority female-founded and run professional sports teams in the world.

In tennis pioneers King and Williams, Uhrman also has stakeholders who understand what it means not to reinvent the wheel so much as carve inroads into terrain many had deemed impossible.

“Those are two unique individuals who know how hard it is,” she said. “Somebody has to be first. You have to be unapologetic. You have to fight for what’s right and value yourself and be willing to say no because you’re undervalued and appreciated.”

Uhrman and her team try to cater to every possible customer, offering a matchday experience that includes slick video packages on the screens and a post-game sunset deck party.

One scheme gives players an incentive not just to encourage fans to go to Angel City’s matches, but to post the link to tickets – and earn one per cent of the gate receipts in the process.

It is in line with research that shows Gen Z is more likely to follow individual athletes over clubs.

“We want to compensate them for doing that in the same way we would compensate Google for putting up Ticketmaster,” said Uhrman.

“The difference is Christen Press has a million followers, so I’d much rather have her put up a link to say ‘hey, come watch me and my team-mates play’.

“It’s not a football match, it’s a spectacle in the most positive way. We’re building community and excitement.

“A hardcore football fan is going to come to Angel City, but how do I get the non-hardcore fan? I create an incredible experience where they want to be, then they fall in love with the team, they fall in love with the sport, then they come for soccer.”