Christen Press on potential Angel City sale: 'It allows the club to continue to professionalize'

Willow Bay and her husband, Disney CEO Bob Iger, are close to purchasing the controlling stake of Angel City FC. There’s no public timeline for when the deal will be done. Still, the new ownership group — and the numbers around their investment, somewhere in the ballpark of $300 million — has reignited discussions about NWSL club valuations and the rapid growth of women’s soccer here in the United States.



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Angel City forward Christen Press, who was also the team’s first signing, spoke to The Athletic while on her way to training on Wednesday morning. Immediately, she noted that she was following the potential sale through media reports herself. Her reaction — and that of her fellow players — was simply one of excitement.

Press said those numbers shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Not if you’ve been paying attention, anyway.

“When you start to see valuations as a player, and as someone who has a very vested interest in the business of women’s sports, there’s two things,” she continued. “First thing I think is, ‘Hell yeah.’ This is exactly how it should be, right? On our podcast, we just talked to Ali Krieger about how, as a novice broadcaster, she’s making more money than she did as a player. These types of sales and deals are working towards changing that.”



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For her second point, Press said that Angel City has gotten a lot right through the first few years in the league, whether that’s game day experience, business, or community, all of those things are already working.

“They also have a lot of things that they need to get right, and a sale like this is a lot of money to the club,” Press said. “It allows the club to continue to professionalize and push the envelope in terms of the expectations for women’s sports. I do think Angel City recognizes that they have a lot of room to grow on that end.”

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The reported $300 million valuation of Angel City would be a record. (Photo by Elsa, Getty Images)

Press called the team a “zero to one project,” but one that needs a different level of funding to go from one to two. That’s along the same lines as what one early investor told the Los Angeles Times in March when the news broke that Angel City was considering selling a controlling stake.

“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?’” Sarah Harden, CEO of Hello Sunshine, said. “This board has determined that this is the right time to bring in a new major investor. That’s it. That is the story.”

Of course, Angel City hasn’t been the only NWSL team to explore a sale — though they have the more positive distinction of exploring a move willingly. Also in March, San Diego Wave FC made headlines for setting a new record, with the club’s principal owner Rob Burkle agreeing to sell to the Levine Leichtman family at a total valuation of $120 million. The valuations of NWSL teams are being watched on a global scale as well. For instance, Chelsea has started to explore the idea of selling a minority stake in their women’s team, using Angel City’s previous valuation of $180 million as their benchmark.

“All of the measures of women’s sports right now are growing, and I think the NWSL is at the forefront of a lot of that,” Pete Giorgio, who leads Deloitte’s global and U.S. sports practice, told The Athletic in March. “Those large valuations and these large transactions validate both the foresight, but also the investment that a lot of people made in the first place.”



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As women’s soccer analyst Kim McCauley pointed out, Michele Kang received plenty of questions when she seemingly overpaid for the Washington Spirit during her takeover of the team in 2022. Kang had originally offered $21 million for the controlling stake in the team. She closed the deal at $35 million, which only two years ago seemed like an absurd number.

Seattle Reign FC finally wrapped its sale last month, with the Seattle Sounders and Carlyle Group taking over the club for $58 million (that club’s sale was the result of John Textor’s takeover of Lyon and a sole focus on the men’s team, with Olympique Lyonnais also sold to Kang). Before that, the sales of the Chicago Red Stars — a total bid of $60 million, with $35.5 million as the purchase price — and Portland Thorns FC at $63 million were also finalized, with both of those changes coming following the league’s abuse scandal.

“If you have an ownership group that needs to be out, it’s actually really hard to compartmentalize, and I think we’ve seen that in the Chicagos and the Portlands, how it’s affected the players,” Press said. For her, it’s different in Los Angeles, as she pointed to the regular presence of owners and investors at games. “For this, it’s only positive. We know our ownership group.”

The NWSL is going through an incredible transformation. Even with the positive impact of some of those changes and investments, it’s not hard to understand why some fans and supporters might get a little nervous about this much money coming in and how it might change the sport. Some of those changes are deeply necessary and some will absolutely affect the culture of women’s soccer in America.

Press has been part of what she called “a generation of change”, whether that’s on the USWNT with their fight for equal pay and a new collective bargaining agreement, or her NWSL career, which started in 2014 with the Red Stars. “I can’t even remember what that first field that I played on in Chicago was called, but I was driving out of the city for an hour and a half to get to some turf field.” The Red Stars’ home field was at Benedictine University; in 2014, the team had an average attendance of 2,949.

“I don’t think we want to hang on to those memories,” Press said. “There is absolutely a connection between those of us who have been fighting for improved standards in the league and our fans because the fans have had so much influence in that fight and our success. It really has bonded us with our community in a way that it feels like we’re all doing this together.”

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Press played for the Red Stars from 2014-2017. (Photo by Quinn Harris, Getty Images)

Press isn’t worried about that bond being lost. She believes it’s trending in the right direction, especially as players have a lot less to worry about off the field and can step directly into stardom. Players that turn into superstars have to be supported though, by brands, by teams, through marketing and the media.

“That’s storytelling and that’s investment, so as it continues to grow, there is a huge opportunity for the relationship with the fans to transform. And because we continue to find ourselves in a fight for legitimate valuations and for fair pay and for equality, we’ll be able to maintain such a strong tie to the fans that help us achieve these things.”

There are more immediate goals for Angel City to accomplish, even with the potential sale to the Bay-Iger group in the works. On the pitch deck, acquired by Semafor, the first of the new ownership group’s guiding principles is “Improve team performance, player support and retention,” which also includes the tangible goal of building a new facility that could serve as the team’s HQ and training site.

While Angel City is currently in 11th place in the NWSL, they’re only three points off the playoff line cutoff. They’ll face Gotham FC in their final match before the league takes an extended break for the Olympics.

Press said the team can rely on the existing trust between the players and ownership group to allow the sale process to play out as it should and not have it overshadow the urgent need for three points on the field — at home — this weekend.

“The entire focus of the group is on the game,” she promised.

(Photo: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

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