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Never doubt Briana Scurry and her ability to lead the way.
The 49-year-old Olympic champion made history as one of the first Black professional female soccer players in the United States and was the starting goalkeeper on the legendary U.S. women’s national team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup. In 2017, Scurry became the first female goalkeeper and Black woman to enter the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
So when Steve Baldwin, the majority owner of the Washington Spirit, began to float the idea of putting together an investors group in 2019 shortly after joining the franchise, he knew exactly where to start. Given her pioneering career, it only made sense for Scurry to blaze another trail.
“Bri … has one of the most unique sets of experiences and capabilities that you could find,” Baldwin tells City Paper.
Last week, the Spirit announced a list of 42 investors in the team that includes two former first daughters, Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, and a number of influential figures in technology, health care, public policy, communications, and athletics, including Scurry and her wife Chryssa Zizos, the CEO of Live Wire Strategic Communications.
Baldwin says he wanted the investors to have both a “D.C. presence and an international reach,” and he asked his co-owners, Michele Kang and Bill Lynch, to tap into their own personal networks. The group started to come together about six or seven months ago.
“That list is diverse and extraordinary,” Scurry says. “And I think it’s reverberating outside of the soccer community … I think that’s important because that’s part of the grand plan of bringing visibility and in raising awareness about our amazing club. And so I think the fact that you have these people from the political spectrum, to community leaders, to other Olympic athletes like myself, I mean, my goodness. It is an amazing list.”
The Spirit isn’t the only National Women’s Soccer League team bringing in high-powered A-list investors. Last year, Angel City FC, an expansion team based in Los Angeles set to debut next year, announced that its investors would include Serena Williams, Candace Parker, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, Lindsey Vonn, Mia Hamm, and Abby Wambach. Tennis champion Naomi Osaka is an investor in the North Carolina Courage.
The NWSL has managed to succeed where its predecessors failed, and the latest energy surrounding the league feels different to Scurry. The NWSL, she says, has financial support, a forward thinking plan, and people who are interested in supporting it to make it last. The investor groups, Scurry believes, “might be an evolution of an entire method of system and how you do these things.”
“I think the NWSL is evolving, and it’s the evolution of the league itself, but it’s also a time of shifting priorities for people,” Scurry says. “People want to be involved with something positive. They want to be involved with something that makes them feel good. They want to be involved where energy and growth and power is going. And supporting women’s soccer, in particular, says a lot about you, and what you’re trying to do and uplift and who you’re trying to uplift. I mean, we are trying to elevate the status of women all over the world by elevating our league and setting that example. And, right now, it’s a great time. The country is shifting to listening to female voices.”
“It’s not just about soccer,” she adds. “It’s about elevating women everywhere.”
Baldwin noticed the same thing in his pitch to investors.
To get his high-profile investors on board, he didn’t tailor each pitch to a specific individual, but rather offered the big picture vision of where he wants to take the club. He spoke about the business aspects of it, and how investors will help grow sponsorships, ticket sales, apparel and merchandise, and help develop new revenue streams.
“I think people were excited about the vision that we laid out,” Baldwin says. “But I think even more so it’s a case where just across the community, people are really feeling like this is the time for women’s sports.”
Each investor is required to participate in at least one of four areas: strategy and development, content, media, communications, and technology, community service, or player experience.
Scurry, who lives in Alexandria with her wife, played for the defunct Washington Freedom team in D.C., and served as an assistant coach with the Spirit in 2018, has seen the game from nearly every angle, and felt confident jumping on board when she saw how Baldwin revitalized the Spirit franchise and made it feel more like a professional club in his first season at the helm.
In her new role, Scurry believes she can provide a perspective that few others can.
“Where I fit in and where I think my wife and I both fit in is, I’m, for lack of a better word, soccer royalty. And I am an OG in the game,” Scurry says. “I’ve been in every iteration of everything that we’ve had. And I think I bring the gravity of an understanding of both sides of it, of the business side and the player side. And I think I’m probably the only one in that group that gets that, and I think that’s invaluable to not only the public, but it’s also really valuable to the team, the players, the coaches, and the staff. So there’s that element of it. I am someone who has been in the game of soccer for decades. My entire life has been about playing the game and growing the game. And this is just another chapter on how I’m doing that.”