Angel City FC is growing women’s sport through its brand-building

“Our investors, including Natalie [Portman], don’t get anything special … they all have to buy tickets for our games, they need to support women’s sports.”

Whether it’s building a gaming company to challenge Nintendo, working in Hollywood, or running a football league backed by the likes of Natalie Portman and Serena Williams, Julie Uhrman believes the key to building culturally relevant brands is a compelling story.

“It’s all about storytelling, right?” Uhrman, the president and co-founder of US women’s soccer team Angel City FC, told Mediaweek.

“It’s telling the story of your players, of your community and of your team. We have 26 incredible athletes whose social reach is much greater than that of Angel City.

“We tell the stories of our communities alongside our players so consumers connect with them. If you do that, then they want to come watch the team and spend their dollars supporting them.”

Angel City FC

Kara Nortman, Natalie Portman and Julie Uhrman at HBO’s Angel City Premiere

Before her involvement with ACFC, Uhrman made her name as a prominent entrepreneur in the tech and gaming sectors, and as an executive in Hollywood, working for Lionsgate Entertainment.

Many would also recognise her as the CEO and co-founder of OUYA, a gaming console company that broke crowdfunding campaign records by raising $8.6m, intending to challenge gaming giants Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. 

While OUYA couldn’t compete with gaming’s big three, Uhrman says her experience in Hollywood and the gaming world is very similar to her role working at a football club.

Venture capitalist Kara Nortman and actor Natalie Portman co-founded Angel City FC alongside Uhrman, but Portman’s name is just one among a sea of celebrity A-list investors. 

Reddit co-founder and entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian is the lead investor, while his wife, Serena Williams, is joined by many famous investors including Jessica Chastain, Candace Parker, Christina Aguilera and Gabrielle Union.

While Uhrman stressed that having so many famous names attached to the team does not detract from the brand, she admitted it makes it harder. 

“One of the challenges of having over 60 investors that are athletes and celebrities is that it’s important that we walk the talk,” she said.

If we say we’re going to have an impact, we must show it because we don’t want it to negatively reflect on the brand. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are supporting Angel City in name only.

Every one of our investors, including Natalie, don’t get anything special. In fact, they all have to buy tickets for our games, they need to support women’s sports. It keeps the bar really high because we want to do right by our fans.” 

Angel City FC

Founded in 2020, Angel City has reached over $55m in sponsorships to date, and reallocates 10% of those sponsorships back into the community, driving initiatives supporting equity, essentials, and education in Los Angeles. In essence, Uhrman explained, it’s more than just a sports team. 

“We were founded on the idea of really driving towards the equity for women, gender equity, pay equity and visibility for women’s sports.

“We developed Angel City uniquely to allow our mission and capital to coexist, where we want to have a positive impact on the community as much as we want to have a positive impact on the sport and hope that one really drives the other.

Everybody that touches Angel City FC, not only is working to make our community better, but is also investing in our team and our players and our experiences in the brand.”

Leading with initiatives that are bigger than sport is paramount for the club’s fans, who care about supporting teams and brands whose values align with their own.

“When someone supports Angel City, they’re not just supporting the team playing on the field,” she said. “They are supporting equity essentials and education in the environment, which are just some of our initiatives at the club.

“A supporter of the team also supports treating women athletes the way male athletes are treated not only from the physical facilities they receive but also how they travel and their coaching and medical staff.

Your fans are going to come back because you have shared values.”

Uhrman believes sports teams cannot just be about building a dynasty or winning championships.

“In fact, that is the outcome of something that could be much greater, which in our case, is really changing the game. It’s investing in women’s sports and investing in the community and not sacrificing one for the other.” 

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