May 23, 2024
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Angel City FC re-ups contract with CLU, team reps speak on business of sports

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Angel City FC’s Kari Noonan, April Seymon, Courtney Ksiazek, Bianca Henninger and Dr. Mark Orlando after the event. (courtesy photo)

The partnership between the first ever fully women-founded football club, Angel City, and California Lutheran University has gone well over the past two years — so much so that both sides are signing up for more.

On April 23, Angel City FC announced it has extended its contract with CLU as the team’s training site for the National Women’s Soccer League team — just days after executives from the team also participated in a panel discussion at Cal Lutheran on the topic of women and the business of sports, showing its commitment to the area.

The Angel City Football Club has practiced at Cal Lutheran since 2022, when the team was founded — famously by an all-women group whose ownership group includes Hollywood A-listers Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Garner.

The new two-year agreement, with a possible one-year extension, enables ACFC to continue training at North Field and use the facilities within William Rolland Stadium and Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center, an April 23 press release said.

“The Angel City football team includes athletes who are top in their sport. As such, the entire club serves as a role model for our own student-athletes and all others who strive to be and do the very best in their life and their career,” Cal Lutheran President Lori E. Varlotta said in a press release. 

“We are proud to have a continued partnership with the team and appreciate being able to support professional women’s soccer.”

To say the first few years have gone well for Angel City since its 2022 founding would be an understatement.

According to Sportico, Angel City FC is valued at $180 million — nearly double the NWSL league average of a franchise’s valuation of $66 million. 

That figure also puts Angel City at the top of U.S. women’s franchises valuation as the WNBA’s top-valued team, the Seattle Storm, is worth $130 million.

In 2023, the Sports Business Journal also named Angel City FC their “Sports Team of the Year,” beating out candidates like the Golden State Warriors, the Buffalo Bills, the San Diego Padres and more.

“To be able to build this from the beginning has been fascinating,” Kari Noonan, chief of staff and head of strategy, said during the April 17 panel at Cal Lutheran.

Noonan was joined by Bianca Henninger, vice president of ticketing and hospitality, Courtney Ksiazek, senior director of partnership marketing and April Seymon, soccer operations and athletic trainer, on stage on April 23. 

The panel was moderated by CLU Sports Management Director Mark Orlando.

The main point each panelist made on April 23 was how, on each side of their respective business of sport, they were trying to build a true brand in Los Angeles sports.

“We knew that the competition wasn’t just us versus the Sparks, it was us versus the Lakers, up versus the beach,” Noonan said.

“Our goal was really making an experience that felt unmissable for people who want to be part of it and for them to bring their friends in every single time and have this incredible experience and want to come back and bring their friends along.”

From a ticketing perspective, Henninger said despite women’s sports having a sometimes rough reputation in terms of sales, one thing Angel City never considered was giving tickets away for free.

“I think what you see a lot of time from a ticketing perspective throughout the league is people giving the product away for free and we have the data that shows and illustrates really clearly that if you give away the product for free, people expect this to be for free, consistently moving forward,” Henninger said.

“When you invest the resources that you need to create a good experience, people come back.”

A former athlete herself, Henninger recalled a time when she played in Houston — about a decade ago — where there weren’t even full-time staffers dedicated to the women’s teams, instead using leftover workers from the men’s side.

“I think it’s clear the league has drawn from what we have accomplished in Los Angeles and has grown as a whole and we are continuing to grow beyond that,” Henninger told the Business Times after the event.

For Ksiazek, one of her key points is that Angel City never tried to assume what a fan of the team would be. Instead, they marketed their team as a premier squad with star players and tried to get everyone to see the product.

One of her proudest moments was in 2022 when Angel City sold out 20,000 in its game against the Seattle Rain on the same day European powerhouse soccer clubs Juventes and Real Madrid were playing less than 30 minutes away at the Rose Bowl.

“We got to have a full stadium of our fans not assuming who the soccer fan was and that just really sticks with me,” she told the Business Times.

“But in terms of what is next, we need to continue trying to crack this code until our league is beating MLS and beating the NHL, that is when I will be sort of satisfied with my work in women’s sports.”

Caitlin Clark, the Iowa women’s basketball star recently drafted by the Indiana Fever, has also been the spotlight over the last few months, showcasing how people are interested in high-level women’s sports and athletes.

“Her rise is, I think, validating a lot of things that Angel City knew and acted on probably before a lot of others did,”Ksiazek said.

“When you have the numbers and the direct comparables to the Men’s NCAA tournament, it starts to take sort of a different level and a different awareness.”

Still women’s sports have some ways to go, especially on the player pay side. Seymon noted that in some cases, she’s had to see some of her athletes leave training early or skip out on some opportunities to go try to make extra money at events across Los Angeles in order to make ends meet.

“I am hopeful that this is something that can change in the future,” she told the Business Times.

“We are seeing record numbers in the WNBA draft, we saw more attendance in our league last year so I am really hopeful in the next five years we will see higher pay and a higher salary cap for teams to pay their players appropriately.”

email: jmercado@pacbiztimes.com