A Q&A WITH U.S. WOMENS NATIONAL TEAM CO-CAPTAIN LINDSEY HORAN
15 July 2023Jessica Burtzos
As her team heads into the World Cup, the soccer star reflects on how the sports landscape has changed during the decade she’s been in the limelight.
Lindsey Horan has never been one for thestatus quo.Named acocaptain with Alex Morgan of the U.S. women’s national teamas the squad heads into the 2023 World Cup, Horan didn’t even play high school soccer. Instead she chose to play for her local club team in Golden, Colorado. But that didn’t keepParademagazine from naming Horan to its All-America High School Soccer Team in 2012. That same year, she turned down a scholarship to play at the University of North Carolina—one of the nation’s premier programs—opting to join French professional club Paris-St. Germain FC right out of high school.
Since being called up to the USWNT in 2013, Horan has won an NWSL MVP, a World Cup title, and was named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in 2021. And through it all, she has been front and center for what has been a defining decade thus far in the growth and visibility of women’s sports, especially soccer, with her U.S. women’s teamfighting for equal pay, and winning.
Now, the 29-year-old midfielder is preparing for her second World Cup (group stage play begins July 20), looking to help her team win its third-consecutive title and fifth overall.
Here, Horan tellsFast Companyabout the seismic shifts in the visibility of women’s sports over the past decade, how she balances being an elite athlete and an investor/businesswoman, and why there’s much more room for the growth of women’s sports, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Fast Company:Your career spans a time during which the scope of being a female athlete has changed so much. How would you describe the changes for female athletes, particularly in soccer?
Lindsey Horan:When I first joined the national team in 2013, for me, it was amazing. Like, I thought I was getting paid well because I had nothing to compare it to. We were getting a decent amount of fans, and I was playing for the women’s national team, one of the most popular teams in the world. But I came into a team where the veterans weren’t happy with where everything stood. So it was eye-opening for me. So when I think back to 2013, it’s incredible how far we’ve come. I’m obviously referring to women’s soccer, especially in the U.S., but I think, even globally and in women’s sports in general, there’s been such an incredible change. I think the biggest thing is the visibility. Getting people to look at women athletes in a different way and actually getting to know them.
FC:What have been some of the catalysts for change in both visibility and the financial viability of being a female professional athlete?
LH:Games actually being on TV. That kind of visibility is massive. But I still don’t think it’s good enough. When you look at the NWSL, we obviously have Paramount+ and CBS Sports that show games, but most of them are online. I don’t think they show enough of them on live TV. But it’s better than what it used to be. It’s improved drastically.
And then there’s the investment—which really comes down to visibility and people becoming knowledgeable. You know, during our equal-pay lawsuit, more brands came to us and they wanted to give us more just because they found out what we were making, how small our bonuses were, and how our CBA was structured so differently from the men’s. So I think it all started with visibility. Then came the investment, and now it’s the knowledge where people understand what we were going through and how everything was structured from a money standpoint. It just made people more aware.
FC:What do you think the next big step is?
LH:For me, I’d like to see more improvement in soccer-related things. When I watch women’s soccer, I think the quality isn’t as high as I would like to see. And that’s not to knock anybody. It just comes down to the investment at the lower levels. It’s like that around the world, too. Where I play in Europe, I look at a lot of the French teams—where they play and how unprofessional their facilities are and whatnot—and for me, that’s where the investment needs to come first. There needs to be more and more investment in women’s club teams to give them the best environments, the best facilities. It’s happening, though. I mean, you can see it around the NWSL, in places like Kansas City. They have new facilities; their own stadium. This needs to be a turning point. I think we need to have that for every single team. It’s a hard thing to do. But you know . . . they did that for the men all over the world, and look where that game’s at.
FC:How have your conversations with your teammates changed over the years? Do you talk more today about business and sponsorship opportunities that you did previously?
LH:It’s actually a really interesting question because I think before, it was kind of like a no-no—like, you don’t speak about your own personal investments or sponsorship deals or whatnot. But I think now, it’s more about . . . we want to give equal opportunity to people who deserve it, and that means being transparent and being vocal about what we’re doing. It goes back to visibility, right? Like, I look at our team going into the World Cup this summer, and I feel like all 23 players should have sponsorship deals. They should have brands reaching out to them and wanting to represent them. They should be proud of the fact that they have these brands reaching out, and they should be able to talk about it.
FC:As you’ve grown up in the sport, what have been some of the biggest challenges in building your own brand and establishing yourself in your business?
LH:At the beginning of my career, I think it was more about patience, knowing that the brands will come—the opportunities will come. Obviously, I needed to perform at a high level consistently, and even more so because I was a woman. Especially during World Cup years. Definitely during the Olympic years. Those years are massive for you. And so the patience really paid off because I was focusing on soccer, and then when everything came in a rush before the last World Cup—all the attention and opportunities—I was prepared.
FC:What are your criteria when you select brands for sponsorships or business and investment opportunities? What are the nonnegotiable values that you look for in partners?
LH:As I’ve gotten older and more brands have reached out, I think I’ve changed a little bit in the way I think about who I want to work with. Probably the most important question I ask is, Do I actually believe in the brand? If I will use it, I can invest in it. You know, a lot of athletes are just like,It’s money—who cares!But it’s hard to think about being partnered with a company or representing a product that I don’t totally believe in. That’s really hard for me. It’s my name, and I get to choose what I attach it to. So I’m pretty selective, which I know is a luxury not every athlete has, so I’m super fortunate.
FC:How do you identify the brands you work with, both for sponsorship and investment?
LH:Most of them come through my agent. Like Cheribundi, for example. My agent approached me about them wanting to partner with me, and it’s a perfect example of what we just talked about becauseI’ve actually known about Cheribundifor quite some time. At one point early in my career, I was taking it every single day. And now it’s a staple because, as I get older, recovery becomes even more important. So when they came to me, I was so excited because it’s something that I use and that I truly believe in.
FC:How do you balance training to be a world-class soccer player and managing your investments and partnerships?
LH:I think a lot of athletes try to do everything themselves, and that’s okay if that’s your thing. But I know I need to bring in others when I need help. I’m really not afraid to ask a stupid question, take advice, or hire a professional. I have a financial advisor that I have monthly calls with, and honestly, my mom helps me with almost everything. I know a lot of people are probably like,Oh, really? Your mom helps you?But my mom is the smartest person I know, so it’s amazing to have her in my corner helping with everything from a financial standpoint. So I have a lot of help. I mean, what it comes down to is that . . . it’s your future. It’s your financial world. I’d rather get it right than try to do it all myself.
FC:What advice would you give young female athletes on how to pursue their business and financial interests without taking away from what’s required to be an elite athlete?
LH:Stay true to yourself and focus on your craft. It’s so cliché, but it’s true. Don’t get caught up stressing about sponsorships. It’s natural to compare yourself to other players and who’s getting what sponsorships and whatnot—to see others in your position with more deals and wonder what you’re doing wrong. But that can hold you back. Focus on being the best player you can be. I was patient early in my career, wondering if I’d get any deals besidesAdidas. But I stuck to being me, did what I had to do to be the best I could be on the field, and eventually, brands started reaching out. So for a young athlete, my advice is to stay patient, focus on being the best you can be, and everything else will fall into place. Everyone’s path is different, so just be you.