Washington Spirit owner Steve Baldwin and goalie Aubrey Bledsoe explained the importance of increased investment in the team — including that of Washington Capitals legend Alexander Ovechkin — in a Monday press conference.
“We’re really thrilled to have all these new investors and owners,” said Spirit captain and goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. “And the great part is everyone that we’ve got to join our club is going to take an active role. Our goal is to be the best club in the world so we’re not looking just for a paycheck.”
Midfielder Tori Huster said that the Spirit’s new group of investors are “not only providing financial support but also their time, their energy and their expertise.” And in the case of having a titan of professional sports such as Ovechkin and others in the mix, that expertise can go a long way for the Spirit players.
“I think that they can provide advice, they can be mentors as professional athletes because they are dealing with something that is maybe a step above what women’s sports is at currently,” Huster said. “And I think overall they can help us be better professionals across the board, and provide a lot of access, and more information.”
Ovechkin and eleven other individuals’ investment, announced Monday, comes on the heels of a yearlong trend of NWSL clubs expanding their ownership groups with splashy, star-studded additions. Just last week, the Chicago Red Stars announced new investments made by a slew of “achievers across a variety of industries” including actress Aimee Garcia and television executives Bella Bavaria and Channing Dungey according to a press release. The Red Stars had already made a similar announcement in March, bringing in USA Hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield and ESPN’s Sarah Spain, among others.
Other celebrities recently getting involved in women’s soccer include North Carolina Courage’s Naomi Osaka, reigning Australian Open and US Open champion. The Spirit already have some celebrities on board, with Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager announcing their investments in March. The trend has been dubbed the “Angel City effect” by The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, a reference to the A-list ownership group behind forthcoming LA-based NWSL expansion club Angel City FC. Their investors include Serena Williams, Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach and Candace Parker among myriad other stars across the sports and entertainment spaces.
According to Baldwin, adding Ovechkin and his wife Nastya Shubskaya to the group of investors will increase the Spirit’s global audience due to their worldwide fame.
“By having people like Alex, Chelsea (Clinton), Jenna (Bush Hager), Bri (former USA goalkeeper Brianna Scurry), Dominique (Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes) etc. that came in, in the last round we have dramatically changed the reach that we have to people, really across the globe,” said Baldwin. “It’s not just here in the USA but it’s everywhere; we intend to be a global brand.”
Baldwin insinuated that increased investment in NWSL teams was overdue, pointing out the lack of material support currently provided to women’s sports in the United States.
“99% of sponsor dollars goes to men’s sports, 96% of media coverage goes to men’s sports and I felt like we needed a network of people to help us reach corporate partners to try to change that mix,” said Baldwin.
Another of the Spirit’s priorities addressed by the new investors was to “create an ecosystem that is open to the players to enrich their lives,” according to Baldwin. He pointed to new investor and president of nearby Shenandoah University Tracy Fitzsimmons, who has worked with the club to provide free graduate school education to Spirit players.
As for the possibility of adding even more investors to the club’s ownership group in the future, Baldwin added, “We think we have an exclusive group. We know that there will be others that are interested in being part of it, and we’ll evaluate those on a case by case basis.”
Ovechkin, for his part, shared that while he has yet to meet with the entire ownership group to determine his exact duties within the organization, he is committed to serving in an active role.
“I want to go to see games and support the team, I want to talk to the players, obviously, especially when the COVID is gone,” said Ovechkin. “If they’re gonna ask me some advice, you know, I would love to share.”
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