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LOS ANGELES, April 27 (Reuters) – Angel City FC make their highly-anticipated home debut in downtown Los Angeles on Friday but the National Women’s Soccer League side and their star-studded ownership group have already scored with sponsors and fans.
The team was the brainchild of actress Natalie Portman, and other A-list celebrities including Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Jessica Chastain are now among the many co-owners.
Tennis great Billie Jean King and former U.S. national team members also jumped on board.
Portman, a founder of anti-harassment group Time’s Up, was inspired by the U.S. national women’s team’s fight for equal pay, and Angel City has put its values front and centre.
The team will donate 10% of its sponsorship money to community programs while a portion of ticket sales will go directly to the players.
Jess Smith, Angel City’s Head of Revenue, said she has been “overwhelmed in the best way possible” by the response from sponsors, who see an opportunity to back something bigger than a soccer team.
“We’re not just a sport property. We’re this mix of sport, purpose and pop culture together, and that’s the unique buying proposition,” Smith said.
“The celebrity investment is alluring, but what it really helped provide was trust early on.”
Fans in the crowded LA sports marketplace – Angel City is the city’s 12th pro team – have also flocked to the squad.
More than 15,000 season tickets have been sold for their 11 homes games this year at the plush, 22,000-capacity Banc of California stadium and demand for Friday’s game dwarfs that of other teams in the league.
“We’re seeing nearly double the ticket demand for Angel City’s regular season games than our second best-selling team, the San Diego Wave,” said Michael Silveira, spokesperson for StubHub.
Angel City boasts star power on the field as well, most notably two-time World Cup-winning striker Christen Press.
Nina Kiefer, co-host of the Angel City Chicks podcast, said the team has shown steady improvement throughout the Challenge Cup, culminating in a 1-0 win over the Portland Thorns on Sunday.
Recent signings have bolstered the team’s lineup and infused fans with hope, she said.
“If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have said don’t hold your breath because first seasons are traditionally hard for new teams,” Kiefer said of the team’s postseason prospects.
“But when I saw them play against the Thorns, I saw a different team. Now I’m starting to get that hope again.
“I don’t want to jinx it – knock on wood – but I think we have a good shot at playoffs.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles
Editing by Toby Davis
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