Panama's Riley Tanner and fans react in the stands after the Panama vs France match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023
Panama's Riley Tanner and fans react in the stands after the Panama vs France match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 Image Credit: Reuters

SYDNEY: Natalie Portman said she never dreamed of owning a professional sports team, but that changed when the Oscar-winning actress noticed the way one of her sons viewed female soccer players with the same "admiration and fandom" as male players.

Israeli-American Portman is the co-founder of National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) team Angel City and is in Australia for the ongoing Women's World Cup along with many of the club's co-owners and staff.

"I was like this is culture change. This is it. If our boys look up to women like that, that's how everything changes," Portman said at Friday's Angel City Equity Summit at the Sydney Opera House.

"That's what got me really excited. And it was really the female players being such icons and heroes... I think their leadership, on and off the field in the (2019) World Cup really was the inspiration for me and seeing Of course, my child react in that way." The summit featured some of the biggest names in the women's game including retired U.S. greats Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura.

Natalie Portman poses during a photocall for the film
Natalie Portman (File photo)

The 42-year-old Portman assembled an Angel City ownership group that includes some of the world's best athletes and Hollywood stars. The team finished eighth in their inaugural 2022 season, but averaged a league-leading 19,105 fans.

Jamaica's midfielder #02 Solai Washington poses for a selfie with fans after her team qualified for the last 16 following the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group F football match between Jamaica and Brazil at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, also known as AAMI Park, in Melbourne on August 2, 2023.
Image Credit: AFP

"I could like barely walk across the street without tripping, so this is definitely an unusual, unexpected turn of events in my life - my love for (soccer)," Portman said.

One of the first people the actress reached out to for help was co-founder Kara Nortman, a technology venture capitalist she had met during the "Time's Up" movement against sexual harassment in Hollywood.

"It was the fact that it was Natalie Portman, you know, queen of Star Wars, first female Thor, and I thought, well, if Natalie thinks it's possible, maybe it's possible," Nortman said.

All about Women's World Ccup

Part of Angel City's mandate is to put 1% of ticket sales back in their players' pockets. Players in turn help drive sales on their social media platforms. The club has already sold almost 16,000 season tickets.

Also 10% of Angel City's sponsorship money goes to the local community partnerships.

Portman said she was also inspired after reading about theatre as a way of fighting injustice in Harare, Zimbabwe.

"When groups have not many resources to try and overcome injustice, they create theatre," she said. "And I was like, I know theatre, and what's the most theatrical thing we can do to go for gender equity than to have this incredible large group of influential women together, making a spectacle with these incredible players at the forefront? "It just felt like that's how you accelerate change is theatre."