Mark Rojas (Journalism, ’11) became a fútbol fanatic in college. Whether cheering from the stands for the Wildcats women’s soccer team or watching televised World Cup matches downtown, he found a thrill in analyzing plays and supporting female athletes.
“The female version is pretty much the same sport in every facet, so why doesn’t it get the same kind of attention, support, or attendance?” he said. “I thought, I am going to be part of that change and support it however I can.”
With his wife, Lindsay, he is now helping to lead the charge to support Angel City FC, the new National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team in Los Angeles.
Rojas, a graphic designer for Fandango, lent his skills to create a logo for the Bring NWSL to LA campaign, and he and Lindsay grew a community of supporters via social media and in-person publicity efforts at Major League Soccer (MLS) games and other events.
In July, Rojas was thrilled when a celebrity- and soccer-star-filled group—owned primarily by women—announced the NWSL was officially expanding to Southern California in 2022 with Angel City FC, in part because of enthusiasm of the LA supporters group.
“We were ecstatic! How many times can you set forth on a mission to do something that is out of your control, that is seemingly feasible but you don’t have a say in it, and then have someone at the helm come to you directly and say, ‘We are going to do the thing you asked us to do?’” Rojas asked.
He is now channeling his energy and marketing talents into the supporters’ club Rebellion 99, so when the first game whistle blows, it’s met with deafening enthusiasm from the stands. The club’s name pays homage to the idea that as a woman, any act is an act of rebellion, and honors the former US Women’s National Team (USWNT) players in the owners group who were part of the game-changing 1999 World Cup.
“We want to make sure this team succeeds,” he said. “If the team succeeds, the league continues to succeed, and it’s a greater good for women’s sports.”
Even though he had played soccer in high school, Rojas began to enter the realm of superfandom in college, where his roommates were big fans of the Mexican National Team. When he worked on The Orion, his roommate was assigned to report on the women’s soccer beat so he started joining him at every game, giving nicknames to players and analyzing their plays.
When he met Lindsay, who had never had an interest in soccer, their passions grew together. They moved to Los Angeles and joined The 3252, a supporters group for MLS’s Los Angeles FC (LAFC). Together, they began building a community around the team, getting other people interested, creating membership and doing marketing, and showing up to games with drums, flags, and cheers, eventually building a reputation as one of the best sports atmospheres in Los Angeles.
In 2015, they attended a FIFA Women’s World Cup match in Canada and cheered on the USWNT from the stands in France at the World Cup in 2019. But women’s representation at the league level in Los Angeles, like they’d seen with LAFC, was still missing.
After seeing their heroics on the international stage, he said, “We knew we needed to support these badass women.”
When USWNT star forward Alex Morgan publicly said people needed to support the players more than just every four years when they compete in the World Cup or Olympics, Rojas and Lindsay decided to invest their energy toward securing a local team.
“We were reminded of Ghandi: ‘Be the change,’” he said. “Apart from us asking in casual conversation ‘What is the possibility of a women’s team?’ we said, ‘Let’s be loud about this. Let’s ask the world. Let’s bring this league to Los Angeles.’”
The NWSL is the US’s top-tier professional women’s league and one of the world’s most competitive, featuring superstar players including all of the 2019 World Cup USWNT players like Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, as well as international ballers like Brazilian legend Marta. Rojas helped design a flag with the simple message—Bring NWSL to LA—and began to carry it to as many sporting events as possible. Conversation began growing.
He and Lindsay began making stickers, signs, and shirts. They sought out other people who were passionate about soccer and advancing women’s sports. They created a social media presence, started holding meetings for their fan community, and created a Slack channel for the growing membership to communicate. And they took their banner everywhere they went, from the USWNT’s World Cup victory tour game at the Rose Bowl to their Tokyo Olympics qualifying matches.
“To help unite behind a common good and bring other people together to enjoy something they love, that brings me hope and makes it all worth it,” he said.
When Angel City was announced, the Bring the NWSL to LA crew was quick to shift gears to supporting and celebrating the new team in the form of Rebellion 99. As the group continues to grow and with the team’s exciting milestones to launch—such as today’s announcement Angel City will play in the same stadium as LAFC—Rojas continues to lend his graphic design skills to the cause but is shifting more into the background. He feels that as a women’s team, its supporters club should have women leadership. Lindsay is president of the board.
“Having been able to set the foundation for a female community that is primarily female-led is the brightest part of 2020,” he said.
Above all, Rojas and Rebellion 99 want to stand for inclusivity. At a time when the world feels so divided, and issues so polarizing, it’s important to create a place where everyone feels welcome and can unite over a shared positive experience, Rojas said.
“We all love the same sport. Who cares what color you are or what other identity? There is nothing preventing us from standing together and cheering for our team,” he said. “The best part of this whole experience has been affirmation that I’m not alone.”