Key to Angel City FC’s success: Star investors, demand for fair pay

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Michell Eloy and Angie Perrin

Players fight for the ball in a June 2022 game between Angel City FC and the Houston Dash. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

As Angel City Football Club (ACFC) nears the end of its first season, it has drawn thousands of fans, sold out games, and attracted more sponsorship revenue than even its most die-hard supporters expected.

Rachel Bachman, senior sports reporter for The Wall Street Journal, credits ACFC’s “overnight success” partly to it having a large media market (LA) and dozens of high-profile investors, including actress Natalie Portman and Alexis Ohanian, who founded Reddit and is married to tennis superstar Serena Williams. Other investors include actresses Eva Longoria, Jennifer Garner, and Gabrielle Union, plus retired soccer star Mia Hamm.

“Angel City had this huge panel of well-known people with, in many cases, very large social media followings. … Angel City had essentially a large publishing platform that they could use to informally market the team, really without spending a dime on Twitter, on TikTok, on Instagram. These folks publicized … their involvement and probably interested some people who otherwise might not have considered … buying a season ticket to a women's soccer team.”

She notes that ACFC set prices aggressively, and didn’t accept trades for sponsorships.

“Sometimes someone at an energy drink company will come in and say, ‘Hey, we'll give you some of our product if you put a sign up with our logo on it inside your stadium.’ And it was fairly common for teams to do that across all sports when the league was just starting out. Angel City doesn't do that. It insists on cash for at least some, if not all, of the sponsorship deal. And that's one of the things that helped it land that roughly $11 million in sponsorship revenue in its first year.”

She adds, “Angel City came in and said, ‘We are a business. We have to make money in order for this to work long-term. We're going to ask for what we're worth. And we're going to insist that people pay what we’re worth.’”

It also helps that ACFC plays at Banc of California Stadium near USC and public transit. “You look at the successful clubs in Europe, and many of them are in exactly that same position. They're right off of transit lines. They're even places that people can walk to.”

While the team signed well-known U.S. Women’s National Team player Christen Press, ACFC doesn’t have many other high-profile players, but that doesn’t hurt their popularity.

“That frankly makes what they've done even more impressive. They are not at the top of the table in the standings, and they don't have a household name, or a handful of them, to market to potential ticket buyers. So what they're selling really is the experience of coming to a game and feeling the sense of community that they're trying to build and encouraging people to want to come back game after game.”

Bachman says ACFC is in a great position going into next season. The team says their season ticket renewal rate is close to 90%, which represents about 16,000 existing fans.