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Aly Wagner, co-chair of Bay FC and lead World Cup analyst for Fox Sports

How do you apply lessons learned from playing professional soccer to a career focused on fostering authentic and valuable experiences for soccer fans and players around the world?

On this episode of It’s Not Magic, Aly Wagner, lead analyst for Fox’s broadcast of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and co-chair of Bay FC, joins us to talk about her career progression from winning gold medals for the U.S. Women’s National Team to announcing the games to co-founding a National Women’s Soccer League expansion franchise. She has led a successful playing career for USWNT as well as professional teams like the San Diego Spirit, Olympique Lyonnais, and Los Angeles Sol. In 2018, she became the first woman to call the Men’s World Cup when she became the Lead Match Analyst for FOX Sports.

Most recently, Aly has taken on another exciting venture as a co-founding member and co-chair of the National Women’s Soccer League expansion team, Bay FC. Our team at Sixth Street is proud to be the majority investor behind Bay FC and work closely with Aly, and the other founding members, Brandi Chastain, Danielle Slaton, and Leslie Osborne.

In today’s episode, we ask her how she’s applied the lessons she learned playing soccer at the highest level to her post-playing career both in the broadcast booth and now building a professional sports team with global growth ambitions. Aly’s fearlessness and lifelong love for the game of soccer drives it all in this episode of It’s Not Magic.

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Episode Transcript:

David Stiepleman: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to It's Not Magic, our podcast from Sixth Street. We invite influential leaders to get to the core of how they're tackling complex tasks in their industry and the world. And today is an awesome episode. Today's guest is a former US women's national soccer team player, an Olympian, an NCAA champion, and former pro soccer player who's now a renowned broadcaster, a founder, and an entrepreneur.

Aly Wagner: My biggest goal, and the reason I actually got into broadcasting was to help tell the story of these players. So you fall in love with the game, the way that I fell in love with it, the way that I know it. So my goal is to make people understand the why and, and know that the why is actually quite difficult or unique in a situation. So I wanna be as true to the moment as possible. And that, that's just how I exist in this space. That doesn't mean it's right or wrong, that's just my approach.

David Stiepleman: That's Aly Wagner. She's currently the lead analyst for the FIFA Women's World Cup on Fox. She was the first woman to broadcast a men's World Cup game in English. And near and dear to our hearts here at Sixth Street, she's a co-founder and co-chair of Bay FC, the new NWSL franchise in the Bay Area of which Sixth Street is the majority owner. We talk about her broadcasting approach and philosophy, reflect on the lessons learned from her soccer career that apply to business, and preview her insights for the Women's World Cup. It's on TV now, captivating the attention of global audiences, on and off the pitch. It takes a unique dedication to the game, but it's not magic. Aly Wagner, thank you so much for joining us. I'm a little intimidated. You've called multiple World Cups in front of like millions of people on television, and you're talking on our podcast, which is awesome. So, I'll try not to be too anxious, but thank you for doing this. Really appreciate it.

Aly Wagner: Yeah, thanks for having me. By the way. I think you'll probably… You'd be an incredible broadcaster, so maybe you should just pivot right now.

David Stiepleman: Okay, yeah. Well, I have a face for radio, as they say. So, let's talk about the World Cup, the Women's World Cup. You're headed to Australia and we're doing this on July, whatever today is. The 11th. You're going to be on the ground in Australia and New Zealand soon. There's a lot of prep that goes into this. How do you prep? What's your process? What are you doing? What are you doing right now?

Aly Wagner: Oh, I wish I could tell you there that there was this incredible structure. Well, actually there is, but I wish I had it documented in digital format because I am a creature of habit. So everything is actually handwritten. So it's a lengthy process. It's taken me a while to iterate on it, to be quite honest. So, I started 2015 with the first Women's World Cup of my coverage, and then I did 2018 for the men, 2019 for the women. And then now 2022-2023 for the men and then women. So basically, you know, my processes kind of matured over, I would say, that past eight years. But what I do is make sure that I go through video of every team that I'm calling. So you get your group stage matchups, and in this case it'll be a handful of, let's just call it 16 teams, right?

Aly Wagner: And you're lucky if you get duplicates in the group stage, and that makes your work a little bit less intense. But regardless, you have to go over, I comb over certain amount of hours. I make sure at least that I'm watching three matches. And I actually am not as efficient as maybe other broadcasters in the sense that I don't actually go and watch 60 minutes of it. I'll watch a full 90 minutes. Cause I think the first five minutes is equally important as the last five minutes of the match. Same thing with each half. And so, I dig into to just the phases of the game, and then I'll also break it down by players. So, you need to know key players, you need to know, and I can go into the weeds with you if you want here, but I'll dive into certain different facets of each team's structure, how they build the game up, what the midfield attack looks like, what the final third attack looks like, and then flip that on the defensive side. And then you'll look at each individual player and skillsets they have, tendencies they have, because the beauty of calling these games is that you shouldn't be surprised by anything. And if you are surprised by it, you should communicate that because you should have a frame of reference from which to point out what is surprising. So, the the pre-work is the intensive work that is laborious but allows you to then hopefully go on and speak clearly and intelligently like I'm not doing now in a broadcast.

David Stiepleman: I disagree. That's really interesting. You're sitting there with notebooks. The US first game, our first game is against Vietnam, right? So, you've watched three Vietnam, or you will have watched three Vietnam team games and you're sitting there with notebooks, correct. And writing down all 11 players or whatever, however many players are on the roster, and seeing what they do and how they do it, and then noticing tendencies. That's very time intensive.

Aly Wagner: Yes. And, and to be fair, with Vietnam in particular, let's just say a lot of their matches aren't as competitive heading into World Cup. It so happens that they actually faced Germany in the past few two weeks or so. So that's been an incredible match for me to watch because that is going be more reflective of what I anticipate seeing against the United States as opposed to when they're playing Nepal. And that they actually have control of the ball and that they actually dominate possession. So, when I'm calling a match that it has a player, or I should say a team, but, you know, a world player like Vietnam, it's a very different beast to tackle than if I'm going after one of the top 10 teams in the world, like a France, a Germany, and England and a Netherlands, you name it. So, I don't get as much in the weeds with Vietnam. There's less information on them, but I still need to be able to understand how I think they'll approach the game against United States, what players we should be wary of and, and expectations of how they'll set their team up, basically.

David Stiepleman: And are you talking to coaches and players? Like are you doing that kind of reporting also?

Aly Wagner: So, if you have the luxury of doing that, I typically do that. If I have those relationships, I'll call upon those relationships long before we get into the World Cup and the tournament mode, because that's when, you know, teams shut down. And they're not as open to giving out information. But this buildup has been different in that I haven't been able to necessarily reach out to all the players and managers that I would want to, but I know that I already have those relationships once I do get boots on the ground, if you will. And so, I'll actually be doing it a little bit differently than I've done in the past where I'm going to recall in those relationships if I can, through the course of the tournament. And what makes it great is that I've usually dealt with these individuals before. So, it actually is a much warmer conversation to get into, and we get into the meat of things. The meetings that are set up from Fox are much quicker than we would if it was an intro.

David Stiepleman: Yeah. And, we've been, I mean, we're both in Northern California right now. The women's team has been here, what, the last 10 days or so, like, down in Palo Alto. You've gotten a chance to see them, I assume, or, and we saw them on Sunday actually at their sendoff match. I have a specific question about their kind of mood and how you're thinking about it. But this is the first World Cup that this team is playing in post the equal pay settlement. Right? Like, does that make a difference? Like, I'm hoping that that makes a difference in people's feeling comfortable or is that too glib?

Aly Wagner: I think, well, I have, I have multiple answers to your question. Yes, I've seen them. We should talk about that. I went over to the hotel, let's talk about that. But I think as it relates to equal pay, the mentality of the United States is what has been the difference maker and every world event to this point. And the mentality has always been, we are the best. We are going to go prove it, and we are going to hang our hat on our competitive nature, the industry that we have, the talent that we have, and we're not thinking about the payday like the payday is in the back of your mind. Like it becomes very real once you win a world championship. What that means and economic value to you as an individual. From a sponsor perspective and from a US soccer perspective. But the reality is the players that are on that squad, they are competitive as hell, and they want to go out and win just to win. And it'll just feel that much better if they accomplish this, you know, elusive goal of winning three World Cups back to back to back. No men's or women's team have ever done that on the international stage. So yeah, it's the competition.

David Stiepleman: I guess I was asking less, oh, I, know I'm going to get paid, but more like, there's just not that noise and like, do they feel like, okay, of course they've always felt valued, I assume, but, you know, money talks, and is that helpful? Is that like, oh, thank God we don't have to answer that question, or not so much?

Aly Wagner: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. When you enter a world tournament, the biggest thing that you try to do is limit the distractions. And the equal pay conversation is a massive one that the team has had to deal with for far too long, as you said. So it allows them to narrow their focus. It allows them to eliminate the extra noise. Which is going to benefit this team. Absolutely. And as you said, they're going to walk a little taller. You know and knowing that they're setting the tone for the rest of the world and, you know, that's off the field and now they get to go do it on the field.

David Stiepleman: Yeah. And not minimizing the other things that still need to get worked on like training facilities, and pitch quality and recovery facilities and medical care and all that other stuff that's like, you know, historically not been the same between the men and the women. And I assume that's at least one variable is sort of out of the equation. Our co-board member at Bay FC, Rick Welts, I remember him talking about when he signed on with the NBA, and David Stern said to him, your job is to create the history of the game and to create those images and create those moments and calls on the air or whatever, you know what I mean? Like, are you thinking about that when you're calling games?

Aly Wagner: You know, I'm not. I think the play-by-play, my partner JP Dellacamera in this situation, wonderful human, I think he's thinking about that. Previous partners that I've had… I know Derek Ray, they actually write down potential calls that they will have.

David Stiepleman: Oh, that's cool.

Aly Wagner: And I know that they want to get their phrasing right. So many times, you think you're watching a game and that they just came up with something out of thin air. Most of the time, the play-by-plays, they've already kind of walked through situations and come up with the description and what they want to impart to the rest of the world based on that moment. For me, I don't. I'm very reactionary. I try to be as authentic to the moment as I can. My biggest goal, and the reason I actually got into broadcasting was to help tell the story of these players. So you fall in love with the game, the way that I fell in love with it, the way that I know it. So, my goal is to make people understand the why, and know that the why is actually quite difficult or unique in a situation. So, I want to be as true to the moment as possible. And that's just how I exist in this space. That doesn't mean it's right or wrong, that's just my approach.

David Stiepleman: Do you have a favorite call that you've made? Do you remember something that you said that you were just like, that was pretty good?

Aly Wagner: You know, I'll tell you this. It's a fine line and there's one that stands out for me. You know me too well to know that I sometimes can dance on that line. It was very uncomfortable for me and, you know, happy to share more on that front, but I was really nervous, uncomfortable, and that's not typically where I exist in the world. So even more uncomfortable than normal. And there was a game that I was calling and the guy, he literally kicked the other player in the nuts. And the ball went out, he got the ball, but he got the player in the nuts. And just on a whim, I had to call the replay. Okay, so FIFA does this incredibly well, they slow it down, they make it so dramatic. And I'm the one I'm responsible for replays. That's just the nature of my job.

Aly Wagner: And I'm going, here we go. I don't know why I said it, but all I said was, “He certainly connected with the ball. The soccer ball that is.” And then, and I was just like, “Oh my God, am I going to get fired? Did I just cross the line? Is this going to go viral?” You know, on the call struck me as, man, that was dangerous. You know it turned out it landed incredibly well, and people thought it was pretty funny. So, it was okay in the end, but that was one that I remembered not for it being brilliant, but for being something that was memorable for lack of a better term.

David Stiepleman: You teased it – why were you uncomfortable, and not in that call, but more generally?

Aly Wagner: Yeah. The reason that I got into men's soccer as a broadcaster was because there needed to be even more elevation to the game. I think one thing we don't do well in this country yet is, is broadcast in the soccer space. I think there's a lot of growth there. Yeah. And so I was drawn into it because I thought we needed to have, you know, even more voices in this space that saw the game differently, that could tell a story differently, and again, share their love for the game differently. And at the same time, I recognized that we had Alexei Lalas in the women's space. We had a lot of male voices in the women's space. One of my previous managers, the 1999 World Cup team, Tony DeCicco, you know, he was in the booth in 2015 alongside a previous teammate in Cat Whitehill and JB Dellacamera.

Aly Wagner: There are men in our space. There were no women in that space. And that just doesn't seem like that's going to reflect society the way it should. Right. So, I got involved because I just thought this was the right thing, for the next phase or next iteration of broadcasting of our sport in our country. And it didn't really hit me until I actually showed up to call that first game what a big moment this was. And the conversations that I was having after calling that first game and how nervous I was. If I was at the stadium, by the way, I was calling it off-tube, which means I was in a broadcast booth. And I was not at the stadium. Very difficult. And you can't feel the energy and you can hear every word that you're saying.

Aly Wagner: You can't hear your partner in an authentic way. And I was more nervous than I really thought I would ever be. And it built up over the course of the turn up for me, not in a way that usually you get past that moment, and you can relax and kind of sail into the next phase. And it built up for me in a way that felt super pressure ridden, or I felt that way. And I didn't come out of that until they sent us to Russia for the knockout stage. And when I got into the stadium, I could feel it. And then I started to find my own voice. I was just very cognizant of everything I was saying and how it was being absorbed by the world or by the America, I should say, and that I was doing something that, that was changing the space. That's, you know, I just, I was naive to not recognize that before I got into the… Even though I knew it was there. I assumed that I would walk into that and be okay.

David Stiepleman: I can't imagine how difficult it is to do that in the first part that you're talking about, like, by yourself, no context. You can't calibrate based on feedback, just like human feedback. It's kind of nuts. That's very hard to do.

Aly Wagner: And you can't see the field. So, so you actually have a very limited scope of what you witness on the pitch, and you see what the camera sees. You can't see what you want to see, which is actually most usually the more important story to tell the audience.

David Stiepleman: Yeah. Oh, wow. That sounds really, really hard. You were saying we don't do a good… You're trying to elevate the sort of conversation in the American broadcasting of soccer. What do you mean? Like, who's someone you, if you've listened to them in the men's game, women's game, wherever, who's a great, I assume football broadcaster.

Aly Wagner: I really love Danny Higginbotham.

David Stiepleman: Uh huh. What does he do well?

Aly Wagner: He tells you the why. He actually looks up at the decisions that coaches are making and the positions that he's putting players in to either affect the outcome of game, or not quite honestly. And so he breaks it down for you. He really does say, okay, they're pressing high because the center back is actually not comfortable in possession, and now it's forcing a long ball. They win that now they're transitioning, well, they're leaving three high cause they think they can exploit them in transition, or they're playing this player because he actually is a massive ball winner and has the range. And we know this is going to be an up and down game, whatever. He's going to look at different phases, different pieces of the game, and he is going to tell you why he thinks the manager made the decisions they made. A lot of the broadcasters in our space will tell you that you just saw an awesome shot. You know, and, and that she wants that one back, or it's, it's not anything that tells you like, why did that player get that opportunity? And should they have had that opportunity in a sense, you know, and then what would you do to fix it? And so, he breaks down, I think, the game as well as anyone that I've heard in the space. And I really appreciate his approach. I think he does a lot of homework and I respect that.

David Stiepleman: Yeah. I think I read this or may maybe I heard you talk about it, you originally didn't want to be a broadcaster. They asked you and you were still playing to be a broadcaster, and you're like, nah. Tell me how you got into it.

Aly Wagner: I got into it right into 2015, basically. So as you said, as a player, I wasn't that interested. Again, this goes to our point of what we're doing at Bay FC, which is preparing players for life after football. How important it is, because I was pretty naive to the idea that at some point my career would end.

David Stiepleman: And you retired 2010, if I got that right.

Aly Wagner: Yeah. It was like 2009 after that season. And I retired young. I was only 29 years old, which is not, you know, most players are now going at 30-35 zone. But I stepped away from the game from a while, and then I was asked by Heather Mitts, a previous teammate of mine, “Hey, would you be interested in calling the Women's World Cup?” And I, I said, absolutely. And then she's like, Oh, I think that opportunity that has passed you know, next time I think you'd be great” kind of thing. And then I think I told Brandi Chastain and Brandy said, well, they didn't want me. I love her. She goes, but I'm going to put you in contact with who ends up, who is now my mentor in this space, Michael Cohen, and see if maybe there's something that can be done there.

Aly Wagner: So, he got on the call with me, he said, “Look, we're fully staffed out. No opportunity as an analyst, but would you want to do play by play?” And I said, “Yeah, I mean, I'm happy to look at it, but I don't think so.” I think, you know, I want to talk about the whys of the game. And so then we talked for 45 minutes, we hung up, I told Adam, my husband, not going to happen. And I got a call maybe 30 minutes later, okay, you sold me. You have a call with David Neal, he's the head producer at Fox. You have a call with him on Monday. Let's see what you can do. And then I had that call, David Neal flew me down. I did one tryout. I'd never called a game off of a tube. I had to do highlights.

Aly Wagner: Never done that. It was so awkward by the way, just imagine looking at highlights and not thinking about your timing. Should you be speaking to it immediately? Should you be ahead of it? Should you be lagging it? Right? And so I had never been prepared in that space. And so, it was just so wild to jump into that and as a tryout. But nonetheless, it apparently went okay. And, and I was on. I was team two through that tournament, which was pretty cool. So I got to call some big moments and, and that's really how it started.

David Stiepleman: Okay, highlights, I get that's like a time thing, but what's like the thing during that experience you were working on and you realized you needed to get better at?

Aly Wagner: It was really timing, quite honestly. And I thought I was pretty comfortable, so I didn't have a massive call out to myself yet. But what I did learn over time was massive. And I can talk about that, but I didn't realize where I needed to improve. I was very granular. The best coach I ever had – I played for five different national team coaches, I believe it was – the best coach I played for was my college coach, Jerry Smith, Brandi Chastain's husband. And the thing he did really well was impart the details. And so I immediately used that in my broadcasting. And like, they played it to the wrong side of the body of the player, so she turned into pressure. Or she took it with the wrong surface of her foot. You know, just got into the weeds too much, I think. And didn't see it as a macro commentary. And I think that's the dance that I've gotten better at over time is talking about the macro and also pointing out some of the micro, when it's relevant.

David Stiepleman: That's super interesting. What's the state of statistical analysis in soccer? I mean, it's… Okay, I'm an amateur, whatever. And I'm trying to understand like how we think about stats in soccer. I get baseball… Soccer, like it's very hard, like 22 people running around, or 20 running around. And like, you can't predict what they're going to do. And there's not, I mean, there are a couple of set pieces obviously, but, it's got to be very hard to track. I guess people wear, you know, GPS stuff now. So, you can kind of see how far they've run all that kind of stuff. Like are you looking at that kind of stuff? Is it, do you think it's useful? What's useful, what's not useful? What's the state of it?

Aly Wagner: Yeah, I love that question. So, the women's soccer space is behind in that particular field, but it's catching up very quickly. I think to your point, most of soccer is an open skill. It's not a closed skill, right? Closed skill is putting, closed skill is a free throw, closed skill is a penalty kick, a corner kick, a set piece. But most of soccer is an open skill. And so being able derive data from an open game is very challenging. But the beauty of, I think, and that's why I am in so in love with our sport is that there's a marriage between the two. And that there is data to back up, oh, by the way, this center mid, it completes 90% of her passes and 50% of them are progressive passes. Passes that take out lines.

Aly Wagner: Like that means the midfield line or the forward line. So they're actually beating players and eliminating them from their ability to defend space. So you can quantify players or you can attach value to players based on stats like that, but there's also this art to it, right? So it's the marriage between the data and the art of the game, which is to me again, where the beauty comes in. And that is, well, is that player receiving the ball in the right moments or is someone giving her basically a crappy pass that she's got two defenders on her and now she's got to do something with it? And that's why her pass went awry. That's why she couldn't face up and play a forward pass. And so that's where you have to marry this open skill that these players have to have with the data that validates or supports your thesis that this is a good player.

Aly Wagner: So that's how, at least from a building out a roster standpoint, we absolutely want to look at it. That's how I look at it as a broadcaster, is I'll look at data points in terms of, is this player the more likely of the center backs to be turned over in possession? Is she the more likely one to cause a penalty? You know, is she out position and that's why she's lunging in and giving away a dangerous foul. And there's data to support those moments in a game. But sometimes that data doesn't tell the whole story. And that's why you can have data scientists, but you need to have people that understand a game too to help inform decisions.

David Stiepleman: I want to put you on the spot for a second because in this conversation multiple times, but also in the times that we've spoken before, you really love the game. You love the game. Can you talk about that? Like, I don't know, what is it it> You talked a little bit about it just now, but maybe elaborate if you don't mind.

Aly Wagner: Yeah, so I can break it down into the individual component and then I can bring it down to the collective component. So individually I fell in love with the game because of the relationship that you can have with the ball and the way that you can manipulate the ball is a thing of beauty. The way that you hit it with a spin, if you don't want it to spin, you want to punt it the way that you can tell it to come with you, the way that you can drive it forward. There's just this, like, this beauty and that relationship between movement and the ball responding that I think is actually quite captivating. So that's where I started to fall in love with the game as a young five-year-old; that I started juggling as a five-year-old, as a six-year-old. And I would go out in my yard… And very small backyard, like a patch of grass and that's all you need sometimes. I didn't even have cones sometimes and I would just dance through, I'd put music on. At that time it was like CD mans, I was hoping it wasn't skipping because I was moving, or a Walkman. And I would just dance through like little weeds in my grass. Little, little, tiny…

David Stiepleman: Obstacles or whatever.

Aly Wagner: Yeah, exactly. Could be. But I wasn't putting them out there, they just existed naturally. And I would just move through the space as the moment presented itself. And to me that was like, I guess it was an escape, but it was also something very beautiful for me, to pair that with music. And so that's on an individual level. And then, you know, I think players do that and even a much more elevated capacity now, with the tools and resources that we have with video and all of that. But then as a team, this is where I think like, I think symphony, I think symphonic. The best moments in soccer in my mind aren't Christiana Ronaldo rising up, you know, two feet above everyone else on the field and, and hammering the home header. That's not the moment that I will remember in football.

Aly Wagner: I remember the play that started in the defensive third and you saw counter movement. You saw these players that collectively moved in sync to open up space and to get into it, to open up space and to get into it and manipulated their opponent in a collective manner. That to me is artful. And then you bring in the science and the geometry of it, which is, I think the most important point to me. And like what I loved as this attacking center mid was just the geometry of time and space and the meeting of a ball and a player and the time and space that that needed to arrive at the same time. The moment for those two things to come together to create an advantage for your team, if that makes sense. Because if you always play defeat, that's easy to defend.

Aly Wagner: But the moment where you find the right space that only your teammate can get to before the opponent, like to me that's beautiful and that's like the geometry and the synchronicity of movements and timing that I think is so artful in this space. And I think it's very different from every other sport because in football you have those moments, but it's usually called in from the sideline. A broken play actually is one of my favorite plays in football. I'm probably not unique in that space, but that's because that is where the time and space come together. But I don't think you experience that really. Hockey comes close maybe. But I don't think you experience in any other sport with 22 people on the field.

David Stiepleman: I can't tell you how happy I am that I asked that question. That was really, that was awesome. I mean that was really awesome.

Aly Wagner: All my other answers suck, but that one was awesome.

David Stiepleman: Ok. No, I knew you was going to say something like that. Men's and women's games, same rules, same size field goal ball, they're different. I'll be accused of pandering to you or maybe talking our book as Bay FC, I like the women's game better. What am I seeing?

Aly Wagner: It’s because you’re smart and you're seeing the right things.

Aly Wagner: I'm biased. So take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. I think of all the sports out there, this is the sport where women's execution, as you said, it can be more compelling, more captivating than the men's sport or version, if you will. I think tennis is the other one that's an individual sport can be doubles, but, but for the most part, I think in individual space it exists in tennis. I think in soccer it's the team sport, the women's game that can change things. So, I think that because things are more artful, again, you can actually see the buildup a bit better. And we are a little bit slower and that's okay. And we are less physical and that doesn't mean we're not as capable of throwing a crunching tackle. That just means for the most part, we prefer to glide to move around and move in and out of spaces more so than the men.

Aly Wagner: And again, you can see the beauty of the buildup in women's football, I think more so than you can in men's. And that's not a criticism on the men's game. Cause I love the men's game. I'm absolutely obsessed with the men's game, but I think you can actually watch the play evolve and people appreciate that. I would also say that in the women's game, and I think we're in a sweet spot right now with the women's game. I don't think we were there five years ago. And in terms of being as compelling of a product as the men's game, I'm probably maybe unique in that thought, but I think the men's game has lost some intrigue in that it's too calculated, it's too conservative, it's too cautious. And I think the women's game is existing on this, the right side of the knife's edge right now. And being risk taking, but also having that symphonic and artful approach that, you know, that I spoke about before.

David Stiepleman:v What kind of player were you? How would you describe yourself?

Aly Wagner: I was a 10, so I was the playmaker. I preferred more risks than patience…

David Stiepleman: 10 is describing your position on the pitch?

Aly Wagner: Yes. I was a 10. So, there had things I did not have. I didn't have the blistering pace of a Trinity Rodman. I didn't have the ability to throw a crunching tackle like Julie Ertz. in fact, I preferred not to defend. So like, let's be clear, I had a lot of areas that I needed to improve upon, but I loved pulling the strings and being the playmaker to play that final pass for someone else to get in on. I preferred the assist over the goal. And so, I did appreciate like the ability to execute in time and space, if you will to, to let other people go and score the goal. That, that to me was like my best moment ever would be to set someone up with a perfect pass to make their job easy.

David Stiepleman: I love that. I think I heard you say you didn't really learn much tactics as a player. Can you explain that?

Aly Wagner: You did do your homework. So, no. The women's game has changed so much. We've gone through, what… I retired… So yeah, 14 years. But even when I was in my primary career, I played for Tony DeCicco, I played for April Heinrichs, Greg Ryan. I played for Jill Ellis at the youth national level. The game as a United States Soccer Federation top team on the women's side. We were very simple. We were very simple. It was like, get the ball wide, cross it in the box and score. Honestly that was it. And then when we had Abby Wambach, it was just, just skip the mid field. A little higher. Exactly. And let her win it. And then we're off and running and so we just were not that sophisticated in our tactics, quite honestly. And I would've loved being a generation later to learn what these players are now learning because the game again has evolved so much. So they understand the idea of moving opponents out of space. They understand the necessity to control tempo at times, or the necessity to not have the ball and let the opponent make a mistake and exploit the spaces that they leave themselves vulnerable to. It's like war. You've got to concede something somewhere. And I think the players now are more primed to understand what that concession will be or should be.

David Stiepleman: And that's better coaching or that's just like the competition is making us have to be that way because it's just now, it's more equitable.

Aly Wagner: I think it's both. Yeah, I think it's absolutely both better coaches, you're getting better coaches into the space. Coaches are coming up through the program, they're learning the game. They're not, I mean, quite honestly, so many of our club coaches are, were just parents, as you probably know. They were our dad. My coach was my mom for a while. Me too. My sister's coaches was her dad, my dad. And so that was the coaches we were dealing with coming up through the ranks. Now you have professional coaches in club environment and then the coaches at the elite level are much better. And then on the Worlds game. You can't just, as the United States of America, we used to just be athletic as hell and basically wear down opponent. Now we still do that, but now we can compete in a different way hopefully, you know, for the first 80 minutes as well.

David Stiepleman: I also heard you say, or maybe I read it, don’t know. It is like, it was kind an ethical statement. It was, “Hey, I'm as a player, I was extremely competitive, but I'd rather lose, you know, having played it the right way than win cheat. Where's that come from?

Aly Wagner: It goes back to the beauty of the game.

David Stiepleman: I love that.

Aly Wagner: That I would rather produce a product that is beautiful and that is entertaining and that shows the value or the uniqueness and the greatness of our game, then just win ugly. And I'll never change that. And I'm okay with that and I know that's really controversial because people say that's stupid sometimes you got to win ugly. You can win ugly, but as long as you're trying to make the right decisions and you're trying to play the right way, that's all that matters. At least to me.

David Stiepleman: People say a lot of stuff, but you got to sleep at night, you got to be with yourself.

Aly Wagner: It's true.

David Stiepleman: True. That's as good a transition as I'll get to the, to the business questions I have for you. So, let’s talk about that. So, a couple years ago, more than a couple years ago, I'm sure, your vision was to bring in a professional women's team to the Bay Area. Can you talk about that? Like how did that come to be?

Aly Wagner: Yeah, so full credit to Leslie Osborne, one of our co-founders of Bay FC. She was the one that when she saw what was happening with Angel City and the success they were having with their brand launch, they were just coming into the NWSL as an expansion team. You know, she said, “We need to have that here.” And so she pulled together Brandy Chastain and Danielle Slaton and myself and, and we started to just, you know, brainstorm around how we could make this come to fruition. We were luckily partnered up with some really incredible executives from the Bay Area. Tech executives, venture capitalists that helped shape, you know, how we're going to go about it from a business perspective. And we did something quite unique as you know. We did it like a tech company raise or you know, a VC raise.

Aly Wagner: Basically, we had a seed round and then we had a Series A and then we had the fortuitous moment of bringing Sixth Street in as that Series B lead investor. So going through that process, we learned a lot, I think and fundraising for this vision. But at the end of the day, the reason that it was really important, at least from my perspective to get involved in this, was the idea that we could change, you know, the way that women's sports are seen around the world. We could change what a women's sports brand looks like and that it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the top men's brands in the world. That was the driving vision. And we knew in order to accomplish that, in order to achieve that, that we would need massive resources because we needed to create the best environment for our players. That was something we never experienced as previous professional footballers in the United States. And we also needed to invest the resources to actually grow the brand and tell our story and build a business model that was going to prove the thesis that this is not only an exciting product, but this is good business. And the marriage, I think of all of that coming together hadn't been done in our space yet. And that was the most compelling reason to drive this vision forward.

David Stiepleman: Yeah, I think the alignment around, “We have ambitions to be a global sports brand of excellence, of rigor, of great culture, of a winning culture.” And I'm distinguishing between those two. But they feed into each other. That's amazing. And for us to, you know, see the B hats and the B shirts all over the place, like in Europe and Asia around the United States in addition to all over the Bay. It's just going to be a great feeling. So you're now, you're a founder, you're an entrepreneur. Like all the lessons we were talking about from your sports life. We often hear about the parallels between sports and business, like overstated. Does it work? How do you think about it?

Aly Wagner: No, I don't think it's overstated. I think that the stats that Cheryl has shared with the world, you know, there's a reason that that people, the women that go on to be C-level executives, you know, they've come from sport.

David Stiepleman: Yeah. And you're talking about the fact that there's a reason for that. Cheryl Sandberg often telling us like 80% of the women in in the C-suite, you know, have played sports, which is an incredible stat that we should unpack at some point.

Aly Wagner: Yeah, it's powerful and so, you know, does it fall true for everyone that sports will give them the appropriate lessons that they need for life? It probably does. Do they choose to listen to those lessons? You know, that's maybe where the devil in the detail comes in. But I think absolutely it, you know, the lessons that I've had… I can, I can go down a list of them, but you don't realize you're learning them when you're going through it. And you only realize when you in these moments that you were prepared for this moment because of these other moments that occurred in your previous life. So, you know, for me, the ability to recognize failure, I mean, I was cut from or to live in failure if you will. I was cut from the 1999 World Cup team, I was the last player cut.

Aly Wagner: I missed out on that incredible moment, and I was in the stands at the Rose Bowl. And not on the field. I vowed from that day on, I would not be cut again. And guess what? I was cut from the 2000 Olympic team. I was an alternate. And so I actually didn't even achieve my dream that ensuing year. So to live in a space where rejection is okay and that you're maybe not perfect the first time or the second time or right the first or second time, but that there's a process to everything. I think there's beauty in that and that patience and that understanding that when we got no’s from fundraising for instance, you know, it wasn't like because we're not selling it, that's not, because this vision isn't right, it's just because we haven't found the right partner, for instance.

Aly Wagner: And obviously as we've gone through this, we're going to have failures. You know, we're going to have moments that that aren't going to be as we scripted or hope they'd be scripted. But the resilience matters. I think from a team perspective, the understanding that the team is greater than the self, you know, a lot of the players that play on the national team, they grew up and they were the top player on their club team. They're the top player on their collegiate team. And then you go to the national team and suddenly there's only one top player on that national team, you know, and who is that? And so, kind of redefining what your normal is and how you exist in this space through sports, elite level sports, I think that is something that is incredibly powerful. Cause your narrative shifts and your identity shifts over time.

Aly Wagner: And so that's going to happen in the business world. I think that's happened for me, and just how I've adapted into this new space and, and again, how the collective is more powerful than the individual. I mean, I think that's like the most important piece that you take out of sports. But within that there's responsibility on that individual to play their role. And so, you know, there's so much value in understanding how to work together as a collective and as a unit. But I also think like the individual lessons that you yourself had to go through to get to, to whatever level you achieved in sport, those are going to be different for each individual, but they're going to help shape you and whatever that, you know, at least in, in my experience, what I'm going through now, you know, they're driving me. And I feel quite comfortable, in this next phase, if you will, of my life.

David Stiepleman: I love that you were talking a little bit be before about some of the lessons in how to prepare yourself for your post playing life. And I think that's one of the hopefully many things that we want to attract the best and most thoughtful players to our club. What about the community? Like what are you hoping people around the area who are, who are just going to be our rabid fans hope that we earn that. What do you want them to know?

Aly Wagner: I want our community to know, first thing I want them to know is that this is their club. That this is their team. This isn't ours. We may have built it, but this is theirs to own. And I think that's incredibly powerful and impactful because you know, when you look around the world and, and some of the best clubs is that identity and that relationship between the community and the club and they're integrated. There's no separation. And so, I want people to understand that first and foremost, but I also want everyone to understand of almost equal importance is that this is a club for everyone. And we have so many incredibly… I mean I've said this so many times over, but it's so true. The unique communities in the Bay Area are powerful. And we wouldn't be the Bay if we only were partnering with one community, two communities, three communities.

Aly Wagner: The bay is the power of bringing those communities together, and I think the unique perspectives and the unique qualities that they all have. So that is probably the other piece to it because if you look around the world, racism exists in soccer. It does. They're trying to get it out. Sexism exists in soccer. There are really bad narratives that exist around our game. We will change that narrative. You know, that's one of the driving forces I think. And one of the opportunities that we quite honestly have here in the Bay Area is to grab ahold of that and make people understand that we are for everyone and that those aren't word, it's real.

David Stiepleman: Another thing we've all aligned on pretty strongly. So, thank you for saying it. So, for anybody who's lasted this long in this conversation has been listening, we're going to reward them because you dangled out that you saw, you went over to the hotel on Sunday, I guess and, and hung out with the national team. What's the mood? Would you tell us a little bit about that.

Aly Wagner: Yeah, so first of all, I mean those players are set up in ways that we never were. They're at the Four Seasons. I mean, I'm pretty sure we're, you know, at the Hampton Inn, not that the Hampton Inn’s not great, but they're definitely…. as you started the conversation on pay equity, they're being taken care of, and all their resources are being ported them so they can maximize their performance. So don't worry about them, everyone. But the mood is… I was able to pop over there with my kids. One of the greatest gifts that this team has is their ability to connect, I think, with their fans and the younger generations and that they take that seriously. So my kids were just over the moon. This is the first time, David, that I saw my kids start to understand that these are stars and that they want their autographs and that these are people that are going to go and embark and do something incredibly unique and amazing over the next month.

Aly Wagner: And so, watching my kids light up this, was a first and they've been around this for a while. So, the players were so incredible. They took the time. We hung out with them for a few hours, probably far too long. But the mood is what you would expect. It's tense, you know, there's this feeling that something is hanging off in the very near future that they're about to go embark on. So, there's this sense of uncertainty if you will. Even though they made the roster, that's the complacency, that's the joy that you feel when you walk in. But there is also this, “We have a big job ahead.” And so, there was I think that intensity to a lot of these players, a bit of uneasiness. I thought it was really fascinating. I was asking a couple questions to one of the players that I'm quite familiar with, incredible human.

Aly Wagner: And then I saw the other players just pile on with the questions. And I'm going, “Have you guys never asked these questions to her?” Like, how are you guys not communicating on this level? And it shed some light and brought me back to the time as a previous player that you get so in your own lane that you sometimes forget to bring everyone together and come together and find out how the player next to you is feeling, how they're doing, what their journey has been like. It brought me back to the playing days of, “You're on as much as you're this team, you're still in your own world to a certain extent.” And they'll get past that once you land in New Zealand for them, Australia, for the rest of a lot of the tournament players. They will come together, and they'll have nothing else to do but communicate, talk, and spend quality time with each other so that they end up wanting to fight for each other, you know, for that 90 minutes. That ultimately makes a difference, but it's tense and enjoyable at the same time.

David Stiepleman: I'm not going to do something as binary and simplistic to ask you, are we going to win? Because I think that's not fair. But what should we be looking for? Any predictions? And then I'll let you go.

Aly Wagner: I think we should look at the group stage. If the United States has a good match against the Netherlands, I think that is a very positive sign for this group. So, if they don't finish first in their group. By the way, Portugal's good as well. Vietnam's going to give them a test. One thing you should look for against Vietnam is that they're going to man mark these players all over the field to a certain extent. And that's unique. So, this is going to be an opening game that is going to make these players feel uncomfortable because that's not typical defending tactics and modern game. It does happen, but it's just not across the board. So, they're going to start with that game and then they're going to go to Netherlands and they're going to be playing in a place that may have really bad weather. And what we know about weather in soccer is that it's a great equalizer.

Aly Wagner: So that's an advantage that skews a little bit more towards Netherlands, where typically the United States has the edge and that matchup. And then Portugal's going to be a tough opponent. I really like their manager, Francisco Netto, and I think that he's going to have set them up well to compete. So, if the United States has a good result against Netherlands, then that next game they should feel comfortable in. And then if they progress first out of their group, that sets them up for a really nice run into the final. It is a very, very great pathway. If things go according to plan, which they don't, but if they win their group, it should be a more fortuitous pathway to get to that final. One other thing I'll tell you. Most competitive World Cup, you're going to see in the women's game. I've said this a couple times now, but this is the first time that I could, you know, say there's seven teams that could ultimately win it and genuinely back that statement up. So there are real players in this space and I expect some massive upsets. I really do.

David Stiepleman: And people should go look at your 25 best players of the tournament that you picked out for five. It's the amount of stuff that you're doing and the amount of work that goes into helping us think about this is just awesome. You're the best. Thank you so much, Aly. And you, I know you're headed off soon and travel safe and enjoy it. Have fun. It's amazing. So, thanks so much for your time.

Aly Wagner: Appreciate it. Come visit us. Come visit us down under, come on.

David Stiepleman: If only, but we'll be watching on TV.

Aly Wagner: Okay. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

David Stiepleman: That was Aly Wagner, world class soccer player, sports broadcaster and co-founder of the National Women's Soccer League franchise Bay FC. We spoke on July 11th, 2023. I love talking with Aly. Our conversation leading up to the World Cup, I think makes super clear Aly’s love for the game, her competitiveness, her focus on doing things the right way, and I'd just be repeating her clear lessons for business in life, but we and our investors are already benefiting from Aly’s work and her passion, as well as that of Brandy Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton, our other co-founders. As Bay FC sprints to the opening whistle next spring, I encourage you all to tune into Aly’s coverage of the World Cup. Like she said, it should be a good one. Thanks to everyone for listening.

You've been listening to It's Not Magic, a Sixth Street podcast. You can read more about our guests on sixthstreet.com and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed today's podcast, please share it, and follow us @SixthStreetNews on Twitter for more news on the show and our firm. Thanks to Sixth Street's production team, Patrick Clifford and Ritvi Shah, for putting this together, with sound engineering by Stephen Colon. Our theme song is, it's Not Magic, an Original Creation by Patrick Dyer Wolf. Once again, I'm David Stiepleman. Thanks for listening.

David Stiepleman: The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any investing, financial, economic, legal, accounting, or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.


AUM presented as of 9/30/23 and excludes assets and commitments of certain vehicles established by Sixth Street for the purpose of facilitating third party co-invest opportunities. Calculation of assets under management differs from the calculation of regulatory assets under management and may differ from the calculations of other investment managers.