There have been conversations for years about why American women athletes are often the world leaders in their particular sports, from tennis (the Williams sisters) to soccer (the World Cup-winning USWNT) and beyond. My opinion is that Title IX is one of the best things ever, but beyond that, there’s actually a hunger for women’s sports in American culture and among American sports fans. I’m not going to pretend that Megan Rapinoe gets the kind of rapturous support as someone like LeBron James, but there’s more support for women athletes here in America than in many other countries. Anyway, following the USWNT’s World Cup win last year and yet another renewed national interest in women’s soccer, the National Women’s Soccer League has agreed to open up another franchise, this time in Los Angeles. Several prominent women are founders of the new team, including Serena Williams, Alex Ohanian, Jennifer Garner, Mia Hamm, Eva Longoria and… Natalie Portman. Portman is the face of it:
A new soccer team is headed to the City of Angels, and Natalie Portman is focused on making it like no other in town. On Tuesday, the National Women’s Soccer League awarded a group led by the 39-year-old actress the rights to form a franchise in Los Angeles, home to the second-largest sports market in the country. While the team — set to reveal its name later this year, but is currently referred to as WFC LA/Angel City — is still in the early stages of development, there’s already an impressive list of names attached.
Along with Portman, the group of majority women founders includes venture capitalist Kara Nortman, OUYA founder Julie Uhrman, lead investor and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and actresses Uzo Aduba, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Lilly Singh. Among others, a collection of more than a dozen former women’s soccer players have also invested, including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney Holiday.
Portman was initially inspired to take a closer look at the NWSL after she was introduced to players by Becca Roux, the executive director for the USWNT Players Association.
“We started going to games, and we quickly became really passionate fans of the sport,” the Oscar-winner tells PEOPLE. “But we slowly started seeing that it wasn’t getting the celebration it deserved.”
Citing a study that found women’s sports only receive four percent of sports media coverage, Portman says she believed there was an opportunity to transform how women’s soccer is perceived in America — and she knew she wanted to play a part.
“We just started thinking about, what if there was a team in L.A.? We’re the center of entertainment in this country for media,” Portman recalls. “What can we do to change the way people are paying attention to this sport? Obviously, the players themselves have been incredible and have brought so much attention, but everything hasn’t always followed their success and their popularity. We started building this group, and then Alexis came on as our lead investor,” the Black Swan actress says of Ohanian, new dad and husband to tennis star Serena Williams. “Then we started gathering a group of incredible people, majority women, to be in our ownership group. Now we’re going, and it’s really, really exciting.”
I love Alexis Ohanian and of course he came on as a lead investor – this will end up being a nepotism play for him when his daughter Olympia is being courted as a soccer star! But this whole thing is very cool. When the USWNT won the World Cup last year, Megan Rapinoe and other players said the best thing their fans can do is simply go to see women’s teams play. By opening up a franchise team in LA, with tons of celebrity investors, the team and the sport is guaranteed more attention and more fans.
Photos courtesy of IG, Getty.