On Thursday, BMO announced a huge investment into the soccer community in the Los Angeles area. They will be the new naming sponsor of BMO Stadium, the home of LAFC and Angel City FC, which had been known as the Banc of California Stadium since its opening in 2018.
While the announcement nationwide will likely be focused on MLS naming rights, BMO was committed to providing equitable investment in the premier L.A. club on the women’s side. As such, they have also joined Angel City as a new Founding Partner.
“BMO came to us,” Angel City president and co-owner Julie Uhrman tells Just Women’s Sports. “It was pretty incredible to receive their call because they talked about having a commitment to equity in sports. Here’s a real opportunity to have equity and support the local men’s and women’s team, and they’re doing just that.”
In preliminary sponsorship conversations, the sides quickly found that their values aligned, Uhrman says. BMO and ACFC will donate 10 percent of the sponsorship dollars back into the community through the Angel City Sponsorship Model. In this case, those funds will go to Girls Play Los Angeles, supporting over 400 high school-aged girls and non-binary youth across L.A. with no-cost access to soccer. They will also be launching a collaborative content series that highlights equity discussions in the community.
While Angel City has found early success with fan buy-in and a wealth of brand partnerships, they are still bound by the inherent difficulties of being an expansion team in one of the largest cities in the U.S.
“Any independent club has challenges, because when you don’t control your own destiny, you are by default at the mercy of those that do,” Uhrman says. “We have challenges when it comes time to scheduling or when it comes to branding the stadium. And we have challenges when we have partners that differ from the partners of the stadium owner.”
Angel City spent a significant amount of time and money making the ACFC experience feel unique to women’s soccer in 2022, and the response from the club’s fanbase has been equal in measure. As Uhrman says, “As we go into 2023, our investment [in game day] is actually going down because at the end of the day, it’s the community that makes it feel like an Angel City game.”
Outside of game day, Uhrman describes BMO’s founding partnership as more than a 12-day-a-year commitment as the team looks to expand its resources from its inaugural year. Facilities have been at the forefront of the NWSL conversation in recent months. A number of top free agents have specifically cited the Kansas City Current’s ownership of exclusive training facilities and an upcoming women’s soccer-specific stadium as a draw for talent.
ACFC × BMO • Committed to equity in sport and helping to grow the game in North America#WeAreAngelCity pic.twitter.com/vTMzyA2XQi— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) January 19, 2023
ACFC × BMO • Committed to equity in sport and helping to grow the game in North America#WeAreAngelCity pic.twitter.com/vTMzyA2XQi
As a brand-new team in a tight real estate market like L.A., Angel City is constantly working toward progressing their facility standards. Uhrman acknowledges they aren’t yet where they would like to be.
“We’ve been really vocal with our Angel City players that we have high expectations, that we want to set the bar from a practice and training facility perspective,” she says, emphasizing that constant communication is important with projects that take time.
“We recognize this is a value to players when they choose a team to play for, so us not having [our own facilities] does set us back, but we hope they understand what we’re trying to achieve and that we’re working on it every single, day and in the meantime creating the best environment we can,” she says.
While Angel City are tenants at their current training facility, they have made sure the team has a dedicated field of its own. They have also made progress with resources like a weight room and staff meeting areas, Uhrman says.
The club is still working on securing a dedicated space for the future, which Uhrman says “is looking really good” and is a process they began as far back as 2020, though the learning curve of their inaugural year was a steep one.
“2022 was rocky,” Uhrman says. “But we believed we got better, and by the end of the season it was significantly better. And it I think also brought us closer with our players because they felt listened to and they felt heard and they saw the work that we were doing to get there.”
Ultimately, as NWSL clubs forge a new path in a complicated sports landscape, having the resources to independently pursue the best available path without being tied to the fortunes of an MLS side will be paramount. BMO’s commitment is a big step toward that end goal for Angel City.
“When you’re treated like a professional athlete, when you’re given the resources and tools of a professional athlete, when you’re not talking about equity between men and women because you actually are getting the best that’s available,” Uhrman says, “you see the results in the performance.”
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.