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Athletes Unlimited’s Jessie Warren on Her Unique Coaching Style and AU’s success

Football stadium at night / JWS
Football stadium at night / JWS

Esmeralda Negron is the Co-Founder and General Manager of Ata Football, an over-the-top sports streaming service carrying live broadcasts of women’s football. In partnership with JWS, Ata Football has helped create The Soccer Show, a highlights-driven YouTube program dedicated to the FAWSL.  

For those who don’t know, can you give a quick overview of Ata’s business model? 

We’ve invested in these women’s football rights and created distribution partnerships with premium broadcasters in territories where we have live rights. We share these rights, because we think it’s the best thing for the sport, but we retain the ability to integrate sponsors into the live match: in opening and closing sequences, halftime shows, whatever it might be. 

We are in the process of talking to some really premier brands to, hopefully, get sponsors on for next season and beyond. A big part of our business model is driving revenue and marketing support via our broadcast sponsorship integration, but we’ll be launching our subscription platform in August of 2021 and that will also be a big part of our business model.

The company is a little over six months old. How are things going? 

People have asked that a bunch of times and I think we’re lucky in that… I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like the market was excited about it. We launched this in a pandemic when fans were excited about live sport and seeing more and more come back on. We ultimately succeeded, in a way, because I think people were paying attention to anything that came back on. Fans were excited to have live sports. Any league that was confirming they were back on, that they would be visible and accessible to fans, was a positive.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

I think with any startup, you’re going to be struggling for resources and bandwidth. We have a phenomenal group of partners, consultants and interns who have all stepped up to bring the vision of Ata Football to life. We have incredible support from our investment group, 777 Partners through their shared services. Additionally, our broadcast production team, Gravity Media, based in London, are just top-class. Without all of these people, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing at this time. 

As with any startup, there are so many challenges. Especially in this space, in women’s sport and women’s soccer, there’s incredible growth and opportunities and partnerships and different things that you can do. It’s just finding the time and being smart with your time and navigating that piece of things, understanding that you’re in this startup phase where you want to do everything, but you don’t necessarily always have the resources or the bandwidth or the staff to be able to move on everything that you want. It’s a lot, but it’s also something I love and I’m so passionate about. I feel so excited about what we’re building and what we’re doing.

Where do you think the biggest future opportunities are? 

For us, providing this visibility and accessibility, both on and with our premium broadcast partners, has been phenomenal. In the long term, we hope our digital platform will be  where we deliver the most value to fans and players of the game. We want to unite a community around women’s soccer and really deliver valuable experiences, resources, and tools to fans and the grassroots market. 

You yourself were an extremely accomplished college soccer player at Princeton. From then to now, can you describe the growth you’ve seen as a player and a businesswoman around the global women’s game? 

The leagues and the clubs now feel like they have partners and a support system that’s really going to help them build legitimate fandom and grow the game. That was the inspiration behind launching Ata Football. And when I think back to my experience as a pro in 2006, 2007, and what the landscape looks like now, it’s night and day. 

Some people still say, “Oh, women’s sports are still super behind.” And it is when you compare them to men’s. But when you think about the growth in the 10-15 years from when I played, it’s incredible. It’s exciting to see, and it’s really promising. 

At Ata Football, we’re really just excited to be involved and to support the growth, to support the visibility, just as I know JWS is. Companies like Just Women Sports and Ata Football can hopefully drive this virtuous cycle of reinvestment in the game and really deliver value to everybody associated with the game so that sponsors can now reach an engaged audience around women’s sports. 

Not to get lost in our own hype here, but what made you excited about working with JWS on the Soccer Show?

At Ata Football, we partner with other platforms and organizations that are invested in women’s sport and in bringing more promotion, marketing and coverage to the space. We realized that you guys were dedicated to covering the FAWSL and were excited to produce and launch this show. So for us, it was a no brainer. It’s an exciting partnership. We really respect everything that you guys are doing over there and we love it. To partner with another organization allows us to offer more to our audience and to your audience is a win-win for everybody.

There was big news out of the FAWSL recently with a new television deal with BBC and Sky Sports. What was your reaction, and what does that mean for Ata Football?

I think it’s phenomenal for the league. I think Sky’s investment in producing more matches at a higher level will only give us more opportunity to broadcast more matches here in the US that are produced at a really great standard. So we’re really excited. We have some friends at Sky Sports, so we’re excited for them and excited that there are now more and more investments and bigger investments in the media rights space. Without this type of investment and people recognizing the value and taking this leap, you can’t pump that money back into the leagues and the players and the clubs. I think seeing women’s sports finally getting that value, the attention around that, and people recognizing the value in it from a media rights perspective, I think is tremendous.


Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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