Amid board squabbles, Angel City seeking new owner for controlling stake of franchise

Angel City FC logo at BMO Stadium.
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

Angel City, the most valuable franchise in the history of U.S. women’s sports, might soon have a new controlling owner after its board hired a New York investment bank to manage a sale of the NWSL club.

The team’s four primary owners voted to have Moelis & Co. seek an investor that would assume control of Angel City’s board, which has reportedly been at odds for months over spending.

But Sarah Harden, a media entrepreneur and one of Angel City’s earliest investors, characterized the search for a new controlling owner as fundraising.


“Angel City is exactly where it needs to be as a club,” she said. “What’s been built at Angel City in three short years is nothing short of incredible. And in high-growth companies it is absolutely normal to step back and look at ‘what do we need to continue this growth?’

“This board has determined that this is the right time to bring in a new major investor. That’s it. That is the story.”

Yet maybe not the whole story.

Angel City, which will open its third season Sunday against expansion team Bay FC, is valued at $180 million, about three times the average for an NWSL team, according to the sports-business website Sportico, which Friday reported the story about the team’s search for a controlling owner. The team’s revenue last year was $31 million, according to the website, nearly double the next-best team.

The team also spent more than any other NWSL club, which led to a major rift among the team’s four original investor-owners, who have been feuding for about six months.

None of the board members would speak on the record, citing a nondisclosure agreement meant to keep the talks private. But multiple league and team officials, who would speak only on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the matter, said tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, an early investor, was unhappy over the team’s profligate spending. The board ultimately voted unanimously to hire Moelis & Co.

As Becki Tweed takes over for her first full season as Angel City’s head coach, the team believes its diverse roster will help make it stronger.

March 15, 2024

“It’s messy,” said one official, who was not authorized to speak about the power struggle on the record.


Ohanian is Angel City’s largest shareholder as an individual investor and through his venture capital firm Seven Seven Six, but he does not have a majority of the equity or board control, instead sharing power with co-owners Kara Nortman, a venture capitalist; Julie Urhman, an entertainment executive; and actress Natalie Portman. And that has given him limited say in how his money is spent, an unusual setup in pro sports where the majority investor typically has control over board decisions.

“The people who run the club day-to-day spend a ridiculous amount,” one person familiar with the club’s finances said. “So that was definitely part of it.”

Ohanian said in an email he would not be selling his shares in the team but declined further comment.

While Ohanian intends to keep his equity in the team, others in Angel City’s sprawling ownership group of more than 100 could decide to cash out depending on how the new investment is structured.

“This has been going on for a while. This is not new,” one person close to the team said. “Sometimes when there’s a purchase, anybody has a chance to get out. But it’s way too early to talk about.”

The search for a new investor will not affect the team on the field nor the fan experience at BMO Stadium, the person said.


“It doesn’t change one thing about the club at all. It’s all behind-the-scenes stuff.”

Harden, the only owner who agreed to speak on the record, strongly backs the current board but said she welcomed more investors — and more spending — saying Angel City needs its own training center and stadium to match league rivals such as the Kansas City Current, which built an $18-million practice facility two years ago and on Saturday played for the first time in its $120-million stadium on the banks of the Missouri River.

Angel City has adjusted its roster to meet the needs of a new coach with the hope of making a deeper playoff run a year after its postseason debut.

Jan. 23, 2024

Angel City trains at Cal Lutheran, where it uses portable buildings on the college campus for offices and locker rooms and a tent for a weight room, and plays its games at BMO Stadium, which is owned by MLS club LAFC.

“Angel City is an incredibly attractive investment opportunity. And they’re going to get an unbelievably attractive investor,” Harden said of the team, which has approximately 15,000 season-ticket holders and led the league with an average attendance of more than 19,400 in its first two seasons.

Although the NWSL, which opened its 12th season Saturday, has yet to make a profit, the league has never been healthier. It expanded to 14 teams this season with the addition of Bay FC, whose principal owner, Sixth Street, is a global investment firm with $75 billion in assets, and whose roster includes Zambian attacker Racheal Kundananji, who last month joined the team on a women’s-record $860,000 transfer.

The league is also in the first season of a four-year, $240-million broadcast deal, has an ownership group in Boston that paid a $53-million expansion fee to join the league in 2026 — 26 times what Angel City paid in 2020 — and sponsorship revenues that are booming.

Businessman Ron Burkle, who launched the San Diego Wave three years ago with a $2-million investment, agreed to sell the team last week for $113 million. The sale of the Seattle Reign could close this week, becoming the fourth team to change owners since September. Among the league’s other new investors are Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his wife, Brittany; the Tisch family, owners of the NFL’s New York Giants; the Ricketts family, owners of baseball’s Chicago Cubs; and former Meta chief executive Sheryl Sandberg.


Yet it all started with Angel City, whose ownership group includes Hollywood A-listers Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Jennifer Garner, and athletes such as Serena Williams (Ohanian’s wife), Candace Parker, Billie Jean King and Mia Hamm. Angel City made it safe and chic for other deep-pocketed celebrities to invest in the league. And NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman doesn’t expect the current squabbles to change that.

“When Angel City’s ownership launched the club, it was their intent to change the narrative on investing in women’s sports. They have done that,” she said of the club, which mandates that 10% of all sponsorship dollars go to support community programs. “The ACFC board is aligned to bring a new control owner to build on and invest in their success.”

However, bringing peace to a contentious boardroom probably will be the first chore for that new controlling owner, if one can be found.