Interview with Lindsay Rojas, President of Rebellion 99, official supporters group for Angel City
We sat down with Lindsay Rojas, President of Rebellion 99, official supporters group for Angel City, the NWSL expansion team coming in 2022. Read our interview below!
SH: How can other cities follow in NWSL to LA’s footsteps?
LR: It kind of all just started with one banner, we just kind of made our initial ‘Bring NWSL to LA’ banner last year before we went to the Women’s World Cup in France. We took it to one MLS game because MLS is actually the only thing we have in California right now. So, I took that banner there and I was actually just really shocked at how many people were like wanting to take pictures with it and were wanting to hold it. They were just coming up to us, randomly and just saying ‘yeah, I totally agree with that, we need that here, why don’t we have a team in LA?’ So, I think that was really what gave me the idea that this was going to be much bigger than I had anticipated. We honestly just took it to the World Cup, took some pictures with it, lots of people loved those. When we came back, we kind of started more outreach efforts in our community to see who wanted to join us in this mission to bring NWSL to LA. We did that in a manner of ways, it was social media outreach, just getting people, trying to see who is interested, who was engaging with us. A lot of it too was going and supporting WPSL, just kind of like watching NWSL, going to USWNT games. They had World Cup qualifiers over here in California, in Carson, we took our banner there. We were also wearing NWSL to LA shirts there and honestly, it has grown quite a bit since then. Its been kind of grassroots outreach movements, going and supporting girls soccer teams, WPSL soccer teams. We have also supported USC and UCLA players at their games. We talked to a lot of these players too and sort of mentioned that we are lobbying to bring NWSL to LA, and they go nuts. So, it was just really cool to see first hand from players how important this mission was to them personally too.
SH: How much has the star studded ownership team played into the exposure that the team is getting?
LR: Just because we are Los Angeles, I think we have always had it in mind that Hollywood would play a factor in a lot of the sports teams around here. We are already seeing that, Hollywood involved in every ownership group that we have in Los Angeles so we always knew it was going to be a factor. We didn't realize how much of a factor it was going to be, and how many 99ers we were going to have on the ownership group, how many straight up celebrities were going to be part of that group. A few months ago, Natalie Portman actually shared our petition on Twitter and on her social media and Alexis Ohanian, he was supporting and promoting a lot of our stuff, we Dm’d back and forth with him on Twitter, a couple of times, he was just a really cool guy, he was all about it. We saw everybody telling him (Ohanian) that maybe he should be part of that ownership group and turns out he was, it was kind of really cool to see. Being in Los Angeles, having celebrities be a part of our ownership group, especially in NWSL is really important. A lot of celebrities or a lot of ownership groups, they do not typically look to NWSL to make a lot of money, they look to NBA, NFL. So, the idea that we had so many passionate celebrities who want to uplift the NWSL and to uplift the Women’s game and gender equality was unprecedented for any team, so we were happy to see it come to LA.
SH: Which cities would you like to see the league expand to next?
LR: We have actually been getting a lot of questions from Canada. I actually think that NWSL in Canada in general would be really amazing. Moving to Toronto, Montreal, we personally have been getting so many messages from supporters out there after they saw the success that we had, just our handle @NWSL_LA and what it had come to at this point. I think we have seen about five different handles, very similar in Canada popping up, trying to get NWSL in Canada. Obviously for us, the biggest place we want NWSL to be in is Sacramento, that would be a really easy trip for us. More in the southwest as well, anywhere we can get it, its going to be beneficial for the league. I think just having that exposure in the community is good for the community itself too.
SH: How has it been to see this level of excitement, especially with nearly 60k followers on Instagram for the team?
LR: Well that is for Angel City, but for Rebellion 99, we have tripled the amount of exposure that we’ve got even. Its been really cool, we are meeting a ton of new people. When we actually opened up our signup form for new members into our supporters group, we got a ton of players. A ton of players who either live in California and never got to have WPSL or are in WPSL. We also having a lot of players who are native to Los Angeles and Southern California who are actually out of the country right now because that was where their career took them. We have one player right now, I just met her yesterday and she is actually playing on a team in Iceland right now. I think that was something we weren't ready for, I mean I think we were ready for it, but we weren't expecting it. We weren't expecting meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds, so many people who are not even in California but maybe just have ties to California or Los Angeles who as soon as they saw the announcement and that Rebellion 99 was the official supporters group wanted to know more. It was really reaffirming, it was everything we have been told from fans here and there, but it was just happening all at once, all around the world. We have members in Australia, Europe, Iceland, and all around America even who want to set-up flagship Rebellion 99 away venues for us. Just the community, the inclusivity of the NWSL is what really pushed me to make more banners, meet more teams, meet more players, talk to them individually because the NWSL stands for more than just a soccer game, its about equality, human rights, gender equality, it has face in our lives. Every time I saw an NWSL team or the USWNT walk on to the field, I knew they were playing and using their platform for something that affects me so that was just different from any other sport for me. Also, we have so many members coming in now and they are in the LGBTQ+ community and they are finding a family with us, that is so rewarding, to see people connect with one another and with us to see what we are really about. Everyone is just loving the inclusivity part of it and that is the most rewarding part for me too.
SH: What has it been like to see your ideas come to fruition?
LR: It really has been a dream come true. My husband and I, we just got married and actually eloped in France during the Women’s World Cup and then got married back here in the states legally, but for us, whenever we have kids in the future, football is going to be part of their lives because its a big part of our lives. For me, it was really a personal mission to bring NWSL to LA and then when I was meeting all these players, all these girls, all these young women who are playing right now but did not have an outlet past college unless they wanted to leave the states to play professionally, that began to broaden it. This is not just for one person, this is for so many people, this is for me and my husband and our kids in the future when we have them. This is for so many people’s kids and grand-kids. Having this team come to LA is going to give so many people the opportunity to show their kids professional athleticism tied with so much more. Its football, but its also respect and camaraderie, standing up for what’s right and just in the world is personally what I want to teach my kids and instill in them, when I have them so they can learn those lessons too. Its nothing but positivity for me, whenever I watch the NWSL or the USWNT or any women's league, there is a lot more positivity and that camaraderie is just different and its hard to explain unless you know it, feel it, are in it, and support it. Its got a different vibe to it then any other sport in my experience. I was blown away, I am very thankful to our supporters and to casual fans for messaging me ‘thanks, thanks for making it happen’. It was not just me, but it was nice to know that so many people in this community are going to benefit from it.
SH: Do you have a message to fans about Angel City?
LR: Never give up on your dream because they may become a reality. Sometimes, you might have to fight a little bit harder than everyone else to make it happen. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘you are wasting your time’, ‘players will not be able to to afford living in Los Angeles’ and those are considerations to take into mind of course, but this team is already showing that they can make it happen, they can ignore and work against the barriers that people put in front of them to do what others say is impossible. No matter how many people tell you ‘no, you cannot do it’, ‘stop’, or ‘give up’, do not listen to them. Anything is possible, you just have to fight for it.
SH: Who is your favorite NWSL team, where are you most excited to travel to?
LR: I have been behind the Portland Thorns for quite a while, not just because they are on the west coast, but because the supporters section they have is magnificent, that is something that we are aspiring to accomplish here. We have even been talking with some of their reps and their board, getting to know one another, getting to see these relationships starting out with them. We are really looking forward to getting out to Portland, meeting some of these supporters and getting to have a fun time with them and welcome them down here to LA. Having a team in LA now is so exciting but having a team in LA also means we get to see every other NWSL team come to Los Angeles now and I am so excited for that, to meet their supporters, see their teams. I do not have to travel half way across the world anymore to see these powerful women play. There is so much to be excited for.
BD: How can you get the big networks to cover the league if you are used to turning on ESPN to watch sports?
LR: We are starting out-reach efforts on this too. It does include reaching out to your local media outlets, for us, I have already been in contact with the LA Times and I am going to be in touch with the LA Times anytime they are not doing coverage. LA Times do not have a dedicated reporter for women’s athletics and so things like that must be highlighted. Number one, we have an NWSL team going to LA and aside from the women's teams we have established here. There is no dedicated reporter so that is definitely something I am going to be pushing a lot more for. Reaching out to media outlets saying ‘hey, you forgot this’, ‘is there anyway to highlight this in the future?’ Is there anything that we can do to encourage the media outlets to cover them more, that is a big push for us. Also, the team is working on that, Angel City is working to make sure that Los Angeles is covering Angel City, that shows the importance of bringing a team to LA, you need to make sure people don’t not pay attention to these teams. These teams are so amazing, its not just a game, its more than a game. The news segment is there, but its just having them pay attention and coming out and covering it. I cannot tell you, you have probably seen on social media, its a huge way of spreading the news. I am not a huge fan of it but I respect people who do, anytime ESPN messes up by saying ‘MLS is the first major sport back’ fans, supporters going on saying ‘excuse me’ makes a big difference. A lot of the time, they will reverse their stuff and edit it and put out a retraction, I love seeing those happen in real time, then they have to pay attention, they can’t not. Also, for me in Los Angeles, just talking to people, I was surprised that so many people didn't know what NWSL was at the MLS games I go to. Being able to explain what NWSL was at an MLS game was really fun too, so many people who did not know about it became instant fans. You saw that in real time, them being like ‘how did I not know this before?’ I think just every single time NWSL adds an expansion, its more of a reason for media to cover it. Once we get up to 20 teams one day, there will be no excuse for media not to cover it, for tv stations to not broadcast it. NWSL supporters are some of the loudest supporters when it comes to calling out those kinds of disparities, ‘why are you showing this game but not NWSL?’ So, I think there is going to be a point where its undeniable for media to not have a certain amount of coverage for a basic CBS level because they are going to see that their fans want it. We also saw that during the NWSL Challenge Cup with the numbers that came out of that too.
...... Once we get up to 20 teams one day, there will be no excuse for media not to cover it, for TV stations to not broadcast it.......
Photo: Rebellion 99