Julie Uhrman on Being President of the Angel City Football Club – The Hollywood Reporter

Kara Nortman Natalie Portman Julie Uhrman Angel City Premiere Getty H 2023

In an episode of Audible podcast She Got Game, sports journalist and host Bonnie Bernstein asks Angel City Football Club president Julie Uhrman what she would say to a teenage girl who plays sports and is thinking about quitting. Her response: “She’s stronger than she thinks. There’s so much that sports can bring to you; 93 percent of all females in the C-suite played sports. It’s something to prioritize. It’s something to be a part of. It’s important. And then I’d find a way to help.”

That last sentence is indicative of Uhrman’s path as a serial entrepreneur who’s focused on finding solutions in every industry she’s been a part of — from working as an executive at Playboy Enterprises, Lionsgate Entertainment and IGN to founding the Android-based gaming console Ouya, and now co-founding Los Angeles’ first women’s professional soccer team since the Los Angeles Sol ceased operations in 2010. Venture capitalist Kara Nortman and actress Natalie Portman co-founded the company with Uhrman in 2020.

“The mission of She Got Game is to illustrate the undeniable link between sports participation and career success,” explains Bernstein. “Julie personifies that to a ‘T.’ That twinkle in her eye when she talks about kicking ass as the only girl (along with her twin) on the YMCA boys basketball team as a kid? That was the look of someone who’s channeled every ounce of the confidence, drive and work ethic she honed as an athlete to thrive in the competitive worlds of finance, entrepreneurship and sports team ownership.”

Uhrman’s fortitude has attracted Hollywood’s elite, with Alexis Ohanian being the lead investor of Angel City FC. His wife, Serena Williams, counts herself among the many famous women investors in the team, alongside Jessica Chastain, Candace Parker, Christina Aguilera and Gabrielle Union. Now with the FIFA Women’s World Cup underway, Angel City is sharing its mission on a global scale with a series of activations that will expand the dialogue around women’s sports and demonstrate what leveling the playing field looks like for female athletes.

“The best job in the world is being the owner and president of Angel City Football Club,” Uhrman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We get to have impact on and off the pitch. We get to grow a sport locally, nationally and globally. We have this higher mission to drive to true equity and every decision we make is a step in that direction, so I have the best job in the world.”

You announced the formation of Angel City FC on July 21, 2020. Are you where you expected to be at this point?

I think we’re far beyond where we thought we would be. The reality was we created our own expectations. There was no roadmap for what Angel City has become. We’re three female founders, majority female ownership group, majority female team. And we were building Angel City differently where mission and capital could coexist. We wanted to build Angel City, first and foremost, to be a global brand, to drive attention and awareness for our ultimate goal, which is to drive real equity and pay equity for these women and using sport and Angel City Football Club as a lens with which to have these conversations to bend that curve. This was never done before, leading with purpose, driving to profit. Every element of Angel City, we focus on the impact we can have in the community as much as we focus on the impact we can have on the pitch and for our owners. So, looking back to that moment we announced Angel City, no, I never thought we’d sell out seven games, have over 16,000 season ticket holders, drive the greatest amount of sponsorship revenue in all of women’s sports and drive the amount of impact in our community. We’re going to put over $2.5 million to work in the community by the end of this year, supporting over 29 different organizations that have a meaningful impact in equity essentials and education. So, I’m thrilled with where we are. We always say it’s just the beginning because we have so much more we want to do for the community to grow our fan base, to grow the product, to support our players, and drive attention [and] awareness for women’s sports globally.

A large portion of Angel City’s female ownership is comprised of celebrities, from actresses to athletes. Did you anticipate such high-profile interest in the team as you were launching?

I was initially surprised by the level of interest and excitement from celebrities and athletes, but very quickly I understood why the vision of Angel City made sense to them. We are trying to blend mission and profit. We are trying to achieve a higher goal than just wins on the pitch; we’re driving for real equity. And when you think about athletes and actresses, they use their platform not only to promote the project that they’re currently working on but also to lean into their social impact efforts and to draw attention and awareness for what matters to them. When we started Angel City, it was during the presidential election. We partnered with Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, two of our owners, as they were trying to get out the vote for the Hispanic community to see how could we leverage the audience of Angel City to tell that message and also to show their support for Angel City. When we started raising money for Angel City, we got over a hundred no’s because traditional investors didn’t understand, are we a nonprofit, or are we a for-profit? Are we a sports team, or are we a charity? And when we pitched the concept of Angel City, the first pitch was to Eva Longoria. And when we explained that we wanted to combine mission and capital, we wanted to build an organization where we lead with passion and purpose to drive to profitability and really rewrite the playbook of how you can bring a new club or a new brand to market with purpose at its core where you don’t sacrifice purpose for profit, but you intentionally drive both at the same time. As soon as I was done speaking, she said, “I’m in.” Our first check. Our first supporter has leaned in every step of the way because she fundamentally understands that we’re building a brand and a platform to drive impact. And that impact is for women’s sports, it’s for our community, it’s for our team, it’s for gender equity, it’s for pay equity, and it’s what she does every day.

That certainly changed our strategy, and we’re so fortunate to have investors such as America, Sophia Bush, Lilly Singh, Jennifer Garner, Uzo Aduba, Billie Jean King, Lindsey Vonn, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle. These incredible women who, in their own lives, really challenged the status quo and want to drive for a better future and are willing to leverage their personality, their brand, their platform to do so. So, their alignment with Angel City felt really authentic. And because of that, they have leaned in throughout our development, highlighting our successes, driving interest and engagement for Angel City, and then participating in community and impact events to help us make a difference in the community.

In May, your three-part documentary, Angel City, was released on Max. How did that project come about?

We really wanted to tell the story of Angel City from the beginning. Most sports documentaries really focus on the players, but we wanted to talk about the uniqueness of how Angel City was built with three female founders led by Natalie Portman and a team of people that came from very different backgrounds to leverage their expertise and their network to build Angel City a different way. What I love about the documentary is how real it is. You see what it’s like to build a professional women’s soccer team from a business side, from a coaching side, from a player’s side. We don’t hide any of the ups and downs. We don’t shy away from the struggles and challenges, certainly, we highlight our successes, but it takes a village. What I’m so proud of with Angel City is that this is a team that is committed not only to growing Angel City Football Club but to being a positive impact in the community and to be able to tell that story was really special.

Natalie Portman really echoes a lot of the sentiments you expressed here in the documentary, particularly when she says, “There’s no playbook, we have to write out own.” Have owners of other women’s sports teams reached out to you about replicating what you’re doing in their leagues?

They have, and we’ve played a big role, talking with potential expansion teams, spending time with new teams in San Diego and San Francisco and the Utah Royals. The goal is just to share what we have done. Sports is inherently a local business, so we can give them our strategy, but how they bring it to light, how it resonates with their community is really up to them. We open up our entire playbook and share everything from our strategy and tactics to our budget and organizational chart — anything and everything to give anybody sort of a leg up to how they want to build themselves. We have found incredible success leading with purpose and finding values-aligned partners. I don’t think that’s unique to us, and I think it’s a winning recipe, but each club has to decide what’s authentic for them and, ultimately, what meets their goals.

We’re more than a soccer club. We’ve always wanted to be more than a soccer club. Soccer is very important to us, and we’re leaning in and investing in that, not only in the players but as it relates to the facilities and the experience on game day. We talk about our game day being the greatest show on earth, and every game is somebody’s first game. So, how do we elevate that experience? How do we provide something special? How do we provide an experience for all? Because football is for all, and I think we built the largest diverse and inclusive community within sports. And that’s because we provide something for everyone, and it’s a safe, fun environment.

The profit-sharing model you’ve developed compensates players for using their likeness in any team promotions. How unique is that approach?

Ultimately, we want to get to pay equity for players, but we recognize it’s a business, so we have to grow the business, and we have to grow revenue. There are a lot of people that are part of helping us achieve that. It’s our media partners, it’s our sponsors, but it’s also our fans and our players. When fans come to games, they not only buy tickets, but they’ll also buy concessions. Maybe they’ll buy merch, they’ll pay parking, right? That drives our revenue, which ultimately drives our impact. The players also play a role because we fundamentally believe that fandom has shifted to a point where you follow a player first, a team second and a league third. So, it’s one thing for Angel City to promote a game on Sunday, but if Alyssa Thompson tells her audience, which is arguably bigger than Angel City’s, that there’s a game on Sunday and provides them a link to buy a ticket, we think that’s going to be more successful. It also empowers players to be a part of the solution to drive to pay equity and empowers fans because they say, “Hey, if I buy a ticket, I now know that 1 percent of the net ticket receipts go to the players. So, I can help drive to pay equity.” And the players know that they play a role also. So, we created this 1 percent fan-filled program where 1 percent of all NetGate receipts go to our players in the event that our players use their name, image and likeness effectively [on] their social platform to promote our games.

And look, we thought about it this way. We pay Google and Meta to drive ticket sales, right? But we’d have much more success if we have our 24-person roster drive ticket sales. And fans are more likely to respond to them than to respond to someone else. So, it’s the first of its kind. We’d love to see other teams pick it up. We’d love to increase it from 1 percent over time. But it’s just a way of saying we all play a role. Fans play a role, players play a role, and it’s really authentic to the experience to participate in the program.

You mentioned media being one of the key stakeholders in achieving equity. Has coverage of your games matched your expectations?

We’re still catching up on getting women’s sports the media attention that it deserves, specifically broadcast windows and broadcast channels where the fans don’t have to do so much work to find it. We’ve had a great experience with CBS and CBSSN and Paramount+. The league is in the process of negotiating our future broadcasts and streaming domestic and international rights. So, I’m hopeful we’ll find a partner that really wants to elevate and highlight women’s sports. And that’s about accessibility. It’s about the time that we play and then the shoulder programming that goes around it. A game is only 90 minutes, but the stories you can tell about these players and the teams [are] really infinitesimal. So, we want to find a partner that wants to grow the sport outside of game days as well.

Angel City has a number of initiatives planned for the Women’s World Cup. Tell me about Equity House and the Angel City Equity Summit.

In L.A., we have over 15 watch parties all throughout the city in downtown L.A., Glendale, Anaheim, Culver City and Silver Lake, to really celebrate the athletes and to support all the teams and especially U.S.A. And during the World Cup … Angel City is launching the Angel City Equity House Experience. It’s an opportunity for us to cultivate experience and celebrate the best female soccer players and stage meaningful conversations around lasting impact as it relates to pay equity and gender equity and access and opportunities for youth in sport. The whole experience culminates … [with the] Angel City Equity Summit. It’s a day of panels, fireside chats and roundtables with esteemed thought leaders in soccer, in entertainment and in sports … The point is to bring these individuals together so that we can really talk about equity and how sports play a significant role to bend the curve.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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