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Matthew Stafford and wife join Angel City ownership: 'We kind of fell in love with it'

Matthew Stafford#9 of the Los Angeles Rams and his family attend the game between the Orlando Pride.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly, attend an Angel City FC game with their four daughters in May 2022. (Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

Matthew Stafford’s four young daughters have seen their dad win a Super Bowl and set three franchise passing records as quarterback of the Rams. They’ve watched as he and his teammates were cheered and booed, exalted and excoriated.

But what they never had seen before last May were women athletes competing the same way in a sold-out stadium. That changed when Stafford and his wife Kelly took their girls to an Angel City game on Mother’s Day.

“It was our first experience and we kind of fell in love with it,” Stafford said.

So much so that the family just bought part of the team, becoming the latest members of a massive ownership group that includes more than 100 investors, from Alexis Ohanian and America Ferrera to Abby Wambach and Serena Williams.

“I just thought it was really unique and really cool for my daughters to see females out there,” Kelly Stafford added. “It was incredibly special.”

“We left that first game and I was like, ‘how cool would it be if we could be a part of this?’ ” she continued. “We didn't even question it. Both of us kind of just jumped on the opportunity.”

The Staffords aren’t alone. In the last four years new NWSL investors have included three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Stafford, Patrick Mahomes and Eli Manning; tennis champions Williams and Naomi Osaka; Olympic basketball gold medalists Sue Bird and Candace Parker; NBA All-Stars James Harden and Tony Parker; NHL All-Star P.K. Subban, and World Cup champions including Wambach, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Carli Lloyd and Joy Fawcett.

What they share is a deep understanding of professional sports and a desire to back women’s soccer.

The reasons why are simple. For starters, NWSL franchises are cheaper, with Angel City paying a $2 million franchise fee to join the league in 2020, according to published reports. It cost St. Louis City’s owners 100 times that amount to join MLS a year earlier.

But supporting women’s sports also conveys a message about gender equality and opportunity, allowing investors to do well financially while also doing right socially.

Angel City FC players run on the field after an NWSL soccer match at BMO Stadium in May 2022.
Angel City FC players run on the field after an NWSL soccer match at BMO Stadium in May 2022. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“In addition to the sought-after financial returns, many athlete-investors view investing in the NWSL as a message of sorts, a way for them to get involved in what they believe to be an important cause, the growth of women’s sports,” said David M. Carter, a professor of sports business at USC and a principal in the Sports Business Group, a consultancy firm. “Many athletes are looking for both a return on their investment and a return on their objective.”

That’s why Harden invested in both the MLS Houston Dynamo and its NWSL sister club, the Dash, said Baird Fogel, co-leader of the Global Sports Practice at Eversheds Sutherland and Harden’s legal advisor.

“The phrase is called impact investing,” Fogel said. “Obviously the return is what matters to a lot of these folks. But a lot of them are looking at social causes and whatnot, including the advancement of women’s sports. It’s very difficult for someone to become a professional athlete, particularly on the women’s side where the opportunities are much smaller. So they are looking to try to change that.

“It’s doing something where the sport can benefit a community or a city, where they know it can help bring people together.”

That’s what convinced the Staffords — who have a long history of supporting community and social justice causes — to put their money behind Angel City. The couple’s four daughters, who are between the ages of 2 and 6, have grown up watching their father play in the hyper-masculine NFL but had not been exposed to women’s sports. Being in a stadium full of people cheering for female athletes was something the Staffords wanted to expose their daughters to.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with his family after winning a Super Bowl title.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with his family after winning a Super Bowl title at SoFi Stadium in February 2022. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

“I never thought I’d have four girls. I’m a straight-up tomboy,” said Kelly, who played basketball and soccer in high school. “So it killed me inside, once I had all girls, to know they might love sports but I don’t know what they can do with it. And now, with Angel City and people investing in women’s sports, you get a feeling that this tide’s going to turn and our kids are going to be the benefactors. I would say that’s the main reason we did it.

“Just to show our girls that if it’s something they want, it’s out there. And that there’s people like their dad supporting it. That it’s a cool thing and it’s a fun thing.”

It’s just not a profitable thing. But that could be changing.

Although Angel City has more than 16,000 season-ticket holders and sponsorship deals worth more than $45 million — 10% of which must be reinvested in community projects — the team didn’t make a profit in its first season. No NWSL team has yet.

However, Angel City — which had a valuation of $115 million in April 2021, before it had played a game or signed a player, more than double that of any team in league history — expects to turn a profit in the next three to five years.

Investors, meanwhile, are playing a long game.

“Take a ride around any suburban community on a Saturday or Sunday and look at the playing fields. Who’s playing? You see tens of thousands of young girls playing soccer,” said Andrew Dolich, who has served as an executive for teams in the four major U.S. sports leagues and now runs a sports consultancy in Los Altos, Calif. “The timing is such that the sort of opportunistic investment is happening now.”

That’s a big reason why Reddit co-founder Ohanian, Angel City’s lead investor, is so bullish on the sport — though he, too, was primarily drawn by the opportunity and example the NWSL offered for his daughter, Alexis Olympia.

And those benefits can extend well beyond the playing field. According to study by the Women’s Sports Foundation — which was founded by Billie Jean King, another Angel City investor — 96% of women who work as executive-level managers in the corporate world played competitive sports growing up.

That’s the kind of return on investment for which the Staffords are hoping.

“Anything that comes financially from it is obviously just icing on the cake,” Matthew said. “For us it was to be part of a team run by a bunch of powerful, strong, smart women. Something that’s really fun for our family to be a part of.”

“Not only for our daughters,” Kelly added “but for any girls out there who love sports as much as I did. There is this opportunity for them.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.