Ohanian: NWSL better investment than MLS

Reddit co-founder and Angel City FC lead investor Alexis Ohanian said that women’s soccer is a better investment than Major League Soccer.

The new club is set to debut in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022, and features a long list of celebrity investors, including Ohanian’s wife, tennis star, Serena Williams.

“The value of being associated with these women, I think, is a greater brand value than being associated with their male counterparts,” he said in an interview with ESPN Deportes’ Fernando Palomo. “And that’s no disrespect to the MLS. I think they’re doing amazing work. But I just think the amount that the women are undervalued is preposterous.

“American fans are realizing there are amazing talents all over the world playing the sport and importantly, the very best women in the world are all Americans and you just can’t say that about footballers on the men’s side.”

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Ohanian, 37, who is also involved a soccer-related startup called Gloria, added that when he digs into the support surrounding women’s soccer, he feels “the leverage that it has, is just more valuable than so many others.”

The serial entrepreneur admitted that he was “late to the party” when it came to being a fan of soccer. But a friend invited him to attend the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal between the USWNT and France, and the game not only made him a fan of the sport, but led to the realization that the women’s side of the game was under-capitalized.

Ohanian said, “I watched this world class performance and I looked at my buddy, and I was like: ‘Dude, how is it possible that I don’t know more about this sport?’… There are players on this team that have transcended the sport, who are a part of the popular culture. How is it possible that this is not a more valuable asset?”

The NWSL isn’t the first women’s soccer league in the U.S. to boast the best players in the world. The WUSA and WPS both made the same case, and yet both endeavors folded after their third season. But Ohanian feels that the NWSL — which is now entering its ninth campaign — is the beneficiary of good timing in terms of the demographics of the sport’s fans and the advent of social media.

“I think if you look across the board, all of the major sports leagues tend to have pretty old [demographics],” he said. “The average fans are in their 50s or 60s, which is lucrative. But it also means that you’re just naturally going to have blind spots for the new generation, especially because that new generation is digital native, and that is the big advantage.”

As for social media’s role, Ohanian said he feels soccer has benefited from such platforms “because it has allowed fans all over the world to ignore time zones, to ignore TV blackouts, to be able to follow the teams they love and the players they love, wherever they are in the world…on their terms.”

Ohanian also pointed out that there is “boundless opportunity” for growth in women’s team sports given the relative lack of competition in that area.

“You have the WNBA, which is a very strong, obviously great professional league, but that’s about it,” he said. “And so for professional team sports in the United States, there’s a huge whitespace for women. And what I think we’ve seen happen pretty clearly now in just the last year that Angel City FC has been around, is the business case is looking stronger than ever, because we’re seeing brands come to us wanting to make very serious commitments.”

Angel City is owned by a mix of celebrities, including actors Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria, and retired soccer stars, including Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach.