Soccer Legend Abby Wambach: 'Right Now Our World Needs More Women Leading'
The retired Olympic and USWNT great is fired up to lead a new generation of professional women players competing in the Athletes Unlimited league.
On this week's episode of Get a Real Job, I had the incredible honor to speak with Abby Wambach, the soccer legend who has provided so much inspiration on and off the pitch.
Abby is a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion who has put 184 goals in the back of the net over the course of her career. She retired from play in 2015, but her retirement has been anything but quiet and relaxed. The hall of famer is a bestselling author, social activist, and philanthropist, and has been a vocal proponent for equal pay for women in sports.
Abby and I spoke about leadership, competitiveness, and her role on the advisory board of Athletes Unlimited, a new league that takes an innovative approach to pro volleyball and softball.
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Take a listen to our conversation above, and to learn more about Athletes Unlimited, check out the Q&A I had with the league's CEO and co-founder Jon Patricof.
What led to the formation of Athletes Unlimited?
In the fall of 2019, Jonathan Soros and I began talking about opportunities in professional sports. At that time we shared two thoughts: The first was around the unmet opportunities in professional women's sports and the second was the belief that there was room for significant innovations in pro sports leagues. We spent months talking together about what we would like to see in a new pro sports organization if we could build it from scratch. Over those months, we refined our ideas and ultimately by May 2020 had put together the business plan for Athletes Unlimited.
How is this different from other pro leagues?
There are two major areas of difference between Athletes Unlimited and other pro leagues. First, this is an athlete-led league. The players are involved in every aspect of decision making alongside me and our executive team. It's an idea that my co-founder Jonathan Soros really emphasized in the early days, a belief that the leagues would be stronger if we had collective decision-making. It's a pretty radical innovation in pro sports leagues to have athletes and executives sitting side by side making decisions.
The other major difference is that our league is all based around players, not fixed teams. Players switch teams each week and get points based on how well they perform and how well their team performs. At the end of each week, the top four players in the rankings become captains for the following week and draft new teams. At the end of the season, the player with the most points is crowned the champion. This model was all designed around the idea that fans are increasingly following players rather than teams and that especially for a new league that it made sense to create a model that met fans where they are and what they want.
What are your short-term goals for it?
The short term goal is to ensure the athletes have an amazing experience and are supported on the field. We have a top-level venue and training facilities. The players are telling us they have never been treated so well or seen such a well-run organization. To me, this is where it all begins. If the players feel taken care of then they will be engaged and passionate about the league and the broader venture.
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Our softball league starts August 29th here in Chicago and volleyball will start in February in Nashville. These two leagues are just the beginning for us.
What are your long-term goals for it?
Our plans involve a much larger network of leagues and building a fan base that rivals any of the major sports leagues and having a major positive impact on young people. That means we need to develop a global fan base as well as an amazing network of media and brand partners. We are looking for like-minded partners who are excited to embrace the spirit of innovation at Athletes Unlimited. We are not looking for partners that just want to put up a sign or take out an ad, we want partners that see the future lies in working with athletes and leagues to achieve their strategic objectives.
The consistent message from athletes is that they are involved with Athletes Unlimited not just to advance their playing careers but to amplify the power they have to have a positive impact on the world.
You have many big-name athletes on your board of advisors. What do they bring to the table?
The athletes that we have involved are all incredibly accomplished and have gone through the struggles that are involved with starting a new organization or career. We have a board that has big names but more importantly, they have so much experience in the business of sports and brand building. They are also so well-positioned to give our athletes advice on building their careers. So they are triple threats — they help us build our internal organization, they can give the athletes advice and they have big names that fans know and respect.
Why did you specifically want Abby Wambach to be involved?
Abby was one of the first people we asked to join the board. She is someone who has thought so much about how the lessons that are learned on the field can be extended to off the field. She has given more thought than almost anyone I know to the ways in which people can come together to effect positive change and the power of the collective. That spirit and philosophy is what Athletes Unlimited is all about. The story of the star executive or star player is so over-played in media and how we tell stories in our world but the reality is organizations today require collective strength ... that is what Abby is all about and we try to benefit from her wisdom wherever we can.