In Kansas City and beyond, wave of female ownership has washed over women’s pro soccer

·7 min read

Angie Long didn’t grow up dreaming of playing professional soccer, let alone owning a pro soccer team. When she was a young girl, neither goal was very realistic.

Today, in the world in which her kids are growing up, Angie Long co-owns a women’s pro soccer franchise that boasts a majority-women ownership and executive group.

Angie and her husband, Chris Long, co-founded Kansas City’s new National Women’s Soccer League team in December 2020. Their children, and kids throughout Kansas City, can see first-hand that it’s possible for women to occupy, and excel in, such roles.

Long’s no longer an anomaly. In fact, majority women-led ownership groups are becoming the norm across the league.

“For their whole generation, the fact that it is an option is amazing, and I love being part of that,” Angie Long said.

The incoming L.A. and San Diego NWSL expansion teams will be led by women, and some established franchises have recently added women as owners, as well. L.A.’s Angel City FC has 34 women in its founding ownership group, the Washington Spirit has added 22 women to its ownership group since December and the Chicago Red Stars in May expanded their ownership by 30 — including 12 women.

Before KC NWSL and Angel City FC were unveiled as new teams in 2020, there were just three women among the league’s nine ownership groups: Teresa Predmore at OL Reign, Tammy Murphy with Sky Blue FC (now NY/NJ Gotham FC) and Kay Rawlins of Orlando City SC.

In the last year alone, 72 women have joined ownership groups within the expanding league.

One of those owners is Angel City founder Kara Nortman, Angie Long’s former classmate at Princeton.

“It has been fun for us to do that together,” Long said. “She’s been calling it ‘the old girls’ network,’ but it’s just it’s been fun. I think there’s still not enough women in ownership, but I think that that’s changing.

“And the more women that we have involved, the more comfortable it becomes for other women to be involved.”

KC NWSL chief operations officer Amber Cox said she’s seen a shift in the way people view careers in women’s sports. The mindset used to be that a job in women’s sports was a stepping stone, where one could start a career.

Now, it’s the end goal for many. It’s a career that people aspire to have.

“The shift is now you see people that come into it wanting to make a career to grow in the NWSL, to grow in the WNBA,” Cox said. “Starting from intern on up, that’s the goal. And what’s so fantastic is you’re seeing these franchises do so well and the league really growing, and those opportunities continue to expand and they continue to be highlighted as opportunities.”

Long said it was “absolutely important” to include women in the team’s ownership and executive positions — positions that would represent the organization’s front office. Other women in KC’s ownership group include club president Jen Gulvik and former pro soccer player and fitness entrepreneur Brittany Matthews. Pam Kramer has also helped lead the club in the role of transitional chief executive officer.

“It is meaningful to have women in ownership,” Long said. “I think part of the great thing about this team is the role model aspect that the players played, in terms of the community for young players. And then to have that kind of extend through the management and ownership ranks is really exciting.”

While interest in women’s sports has been growing for years, the typical growth cycle of a new sports league and the time it takes to build and grow each fan base likely help explain the recent spike in ownership and how those executive careers are viewed.

Cox grew up rooting for teams her father and grandfather liked. She said the same concept applies to the fan bases being cultivated in the NWSL now.

“I think as we develop those generations of fans,” she said. “We’ve got young girls who are coming now, maybe teenagers who then become moms, and they’re bringing their daughters and sons — and then you just start to build this affinity that becomes generational.

“That takes time. But I think the trajectory of the NWSL, especially in the last year, has been just phenomenal.”

Growth in the KC fan base has driven interest in sponsorship and investment around the team, and Long pointed out that those wanting to invest in women’s sports have few choices. That, too, has contributed to the league’s growth.

A lot of fans age 25-35 grew up playing soccer. And their general appreciation for the women’s game in the U.S. wasn’t lost on Long, either.

Just last week, the club announced a new, local television partnership with KCTV/KSMO through the 2023 season.

“What’s interesting, I mean, I think there’s a true preference to women’s soccer,” she said. “I think that as we go through the next decade in the United States of soccer holistically, you’re going to get another generation who grew up playing soccer, lots of them as their primary sport, especially on the women’s side. … I think you pair the decade of soccer with what is a huge tailwind for women’s sports in general, and it’s just a very exciting thing to be a part of.”

The new wave of female investors in women’s soccer has also brought its own star power. Among Angel City’s investors are actor and activist Natalie Portman and USWNT legends Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach. Tennis star Naomi Osaka joined the NC Courage ownership group, and Chelsea Clinton has bought into ownership of the Washington Spirit.

And here in KC, of course, there’s Matthews, whose soon-to-be husband happens to be the highest-profile sports star in town, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Long said of higher-profile investors. “I think they are recognizing the power of individual platforms that they have and using that to get involved in areas that they’re passionate about and really contribute and make a difference.”

Matthews’ experience as a player and love for the game are driving factors in how KC NWSL is building the new franchise. Cox said she thinks Matthews, who was not made available for this story, could still step on the pitch tomorrow and play.

“Everything that she brings is so valuable and it comes from such an authentic place because those are her roots — she truly loves the game,” Cox said. “Obviously the visibility that all of those folks bring across the board, it’s a great opportunity for us. It allows us to cast a wider net in a smaller amount of time.”

Before this past offseason, the league’s last two expansion teams were the Houston Dash in 2014 and Orlando Pride in 2016. Both are affiliated with Major League Soccer clubs in their respective cities.

KC and Angel City, with their early community interest and wealth of women in ownership and executive roles, are reminders that there’s a path for growing the league that doesn’t require the help of a men’s team.

“Each city is different, each ownership group is different, and I think we are demonstrating that you can absolutely do it as a standalone team,” Long said. “I think it can work a lot of different ways. But it is fun to be demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be done on the back of a men’s professional league.”