A pair of roommates aggrieved they couldn’t find their football game of choice on television could be the catalyst for revolutionizing football fans’ ability to watch the women’s game on television around the world.
“It followed the PSG Lyon matchup,” said Esmeralda Negron. “We were extra frustrated we couldn’t access that match. I remember Hannah popping out and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to approach it.’”
And thus the seeds for Atalanta Media were planted. Co-founded by Negron - a former professional footballer and sports marketing executive - and her former roommate, Hannah Brown, an ex-Sky rights executive, the company’s core mission is growing the women’s game by facilitating the broadcast of the world’s elite leagues.
Atalanta Media spreads the gospel of elite women’s football to the masses by acquiring the rights for leagues and identifying broadcasting partners. Since its inception in late 2019, Atalanta has already acquired the American rights to the English and French women’s top flights and found distribution partners in NBC and ESPN, popularizing two of the women’s premier club football leagues that previously had limited-to-no-access. Beyond broadcast, THEIR WEBSITE offers live matches, highlights and a variety of other women’s football content FREE.
We caught up with Negron - a former Princeton University standout, who played professionally for the New Jersey Wildcats and Puerto Rican National Team - to talk about how Atalanta aims to change the future of women’s football.
How did your personal journey fuel your passion for this project?
When I was growing up, I was incredibly passionate about the game. All I wanted to do was be a professional footballer, but when I thought about what that looked like, I never had an idea of playing for a professional club. I only thought about making the Women’s National Team. Young girls haven’t cultivated football role models because they haven’t had access, aside from World Cups and Olympics. But there are so many players outside of that, and some don’t always play in these big events. I think it’s important for the development of the game, for the club side to prosper and have success.
Less than a year ago, Atalanta was just an idea. Now you are bringing two of the biggest women’s leagues in the world into American homes. Talk about taking the frustration of a sports fan - unable to watch their game of choice - and turning it into an action step.
It’s been a crazy quick turnaround. I was always venting my frustration about not being able to access women’s football at the club level. This was probably just in November, December of this past year. Hannah and I suddenly thought: we can do something here. The wheels started turning and a month or two later, we had a breakfast meeting with NBC in New York City. We asked if we acquired the FA WSL rights, would they distribute the matches. They were phenomenal. They supported our vision. At that moment, I thought, ‘Wow, we really have something here. We can do something with this.’ What you realize is that so many people want to help and drive change. People want to make a difference.
In a world where we’re seeing some of America’s stars leave the NWSL for Europe, how do we reach a place where it is possible to sustain multiple elite women’s leagues around the world?
I think the NWSL is going to have a big draw because of the number of players and young girls and females that play it in the U.S. Not all of them are going to have the opportunity to go abroad, even if they wanted to. A lot of them may not want to go abroad. The NWSL is a phenomenal league. I think from the top to bottom, it’s the most competitive at the moment. The European clubs, the biggest brands in the world, are now investing in their women’s teams and in the leagues and I think that that’s going to be incredibly powerful. And I think everyone’s realizing the potential on the women’s club side, those leagues are ultimately going to get stronger and stronger. There’s going to be a lot of competition for which league is the most competitive and strongest over the next three to five years. I think the more competition, the more parity you have, the better it is for the game and it’s more interesting for fans as well.
Atalanta is a business. A job. But it’s also a dream and a deep-seated passion for you. What would it mean to you to give girls and boys around the world access to the women’s club game, so they could develop the heroes of which you were bereft?
I’m so proud of that. That to me would be the biggest joy. We want to grow a community of young girls who have the opportunity to get that much closer to the game. That realize if they aspire to play at a professional level that they actually have so many opportunities, whether it’s here in the States with the NWSL or in Europe. There are emerging leagues. There are emerging clubs. We’ll feel the proudest for achieving that and building a community that starts to feel passionate and empowered and excited realizing all they have the different opportunities they have, whether that’s just to be a fan or playing the game and having a career in it.