Women’s Soccer Is Playing the Long Game

Angel City FC’s Natalie Portman and Christen Press reflect on the game’s rise globally.

(Bloomberg) — The US women’s team barely made it through the group stage at the World Cup, and for the owners of a major American soccer club, that’s a good thing. It suggests the game is becoming more popular around the world.

Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress, made a bet on women’s soccer as a global business when she helped start Angel City FC. Portman and her co-founders Kara Nortman and Julie Uhrman reflected on the present and future of the sport in a joint interview.

Though the team doesn’t have a winning record this season, the owners are optimistic about the future of the club and the sport. Angel City is selling out games in Los Angeles, and the stadium is electric.

The opportunity to start a team became obvious to Portman while her family was watching the 2018 Women’s World Cup, she said. “I saw my son, who was, I think, 7 at the time, idolizing the female players in the same way that he idolized the male players,” Portman said. “When I saw him wanting a Rapinoe jersey and an Alex Morgan jersey and a Christen Press jersey just as much as he wanted the Messi and Mbappe and Griezmann jerseys, I was like, this is a way to change culture.”

Women’s soccer games aren’t just selling out in LA but in other US cities as well as in Europe and New Zealand. “It’s changing so quickly now because the world has wanted it for a very long time,” says Nortman.

The quality of play is changing, too. “You just see the growth of the game; just the players are more technical, they’re better, faster or stronger,” said Mia Hamm, a two-time World Cup winner.

Julie Foudy, who has also won the World Cup twice, said: “We’re in it to show the world that there is a potential that is now being tapped into.”

Christen Press, Angel City’s star forward, credits America’s victories at the World Cup with the sport’s growing prominence nationally. “Reaching that milestone was amazing,” Press said. “When you win a World Cup, it changes the trajectory of sport in your country.

This year’s World Cup set a new record, selling 1.5 million tickets. “The growth in women’s football is everywhere,” said Uhrman. “The reality is people want to watch women’s sports. They want to invest in women’s sports. They want to support women’s sports.”

This episode of The Circuit With Emily Chang premieres Thursday, July 27, at 8 p.m. in New York on the Bloomberg app and Bloomberg.com and on Bloomberg Television at 10 p.m. Check out The Circuit podcast for extended conversations.

(Corrects spelling of Rapinoe in the fourth paragraph. A previous version corrected the spelling of a name in the deck headline.)

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