As Super League Tampa Bay prepares to make its mark on the world of women’s soccer, the appointment of Christina Unkel as President represents an important moment in the sport’s history.
With a background deeply rooted in soccer and a unique blend of experiences, Christina is perfectly positioned to lead a movement that will not only reshape how we see the game but also how women and girls will see themselves in the pursuit of their dreams to be a part of this world.
Can you share your background and the experiences that brought you to the moment when you were offered the opportunity to lead a professional women’s soccer team?
Christina Unkel: It was all about unexpected alignment. I began playing when I was born (in a Hispanic family who loves soccer); played organized soccer starting around 6-7 years old; played competitive youth soccer in Cape Coral/Fort Myers area; played collegiate soccer as a full scholarship student-athlete at Palm Beach Atlantic University; and, have been a soccer referee since I was 10 years old.
However, it was the soccer refereeing that took me to the highest levels of professional and international soccer starting when I was 19. There was no place to play professional soccer for women when I graduated college, but I could upgrade my refereeing level/certification.
I’m happy to have pursued it as I had the honor of representing the U.S. Soccer Federation on the international level, around the world, as a FIFA Referee for 7 years, and working men’s and women’s professional soccer in WPS, NWSL, and MLS. Now I actively work as one of the voices of the game as a TV soccer analyst for CBS Sports, ESPN, Apple TV Sports, and Fox Sports.
I have my J.D./M.B.A. from Stetson College of Law and MBA program; over ten years of complex civil litigation; and have started up a couple of businesses on the side and angel investments. All my life experiences contributed to the right moment at the right place when I was asked to speak on Media Day for Tampa Bay.
The opportunity and significance of bringing professional women’s soccer to Tampa Bay was something I could not turn down. It was after that day that I was invited by the owners to serve as the inaugural president of Super League Tampa Bay.
The Super League aims to distinguish itself from the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with features like the “fall-to-summer” schedule and active participation in the global transfer market. What are other differentiating elements, and how will they impact the league’s competitiveness and player engagement?
Christina Unkel: The USL Super League and NWSL share a strong and important purpose – to create opportunities and access for women seeking to become professional athletes. USL Super League will continue to grow on the important purpose and go beyond the professional level by creating a viable and critical youth-to-pro pipeline.
This is not only a league effort but a Super League Tampa Bay to focus on how we are developing our young women athletes for a sustainable and holistic approach to becoming professional soccer players.
Super League will use the FIFA calendar approach and modern-day club and player development to become competitive in not only the domestic professional market but also in the global game when it comes to competition and player development/opportunities.
Tampa Bay has been chosen as the starting point for the Super League team. Could you elaborate on the factors that make this area ideal for the league’s launch?
Christina Unkel: We are unequivocally a sports town with a rich history of winning teams and franchise players. Fielding a women’s pro team is its next chapter and is long overdue.
We have all the right ingredients to make Super League Tampa Bay successful domestically and globally – enthusiastic fans, strong community involvement, a great climate and destination, a winning tradition, and powerhouse leaders and companies who understand how the power of sport positively impacts communities and social norms.
Join all of that with the success of the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup and the anticipation of the Summer Olympics next year, and it’s just the right moment for Tampa to step into the spotlight.
How will the Super League create more opportunities for women to become professional soccer players and provide a viable pipeline for female athletes to pursue their dreams?
Christina Unkel: There are about 32,000 NCAA college women’s soccer players and of this, only 288 women can play professional soccer at any time. That is less than 1% of college women’s soccer players. That number is a striking contrast to the talent and capability of elite female soccer players developed throughout the U.S. Super League. Tampa Bay and the new league will almost double this number in year 1 of the league and continue to provide more access for players, coaches, trainers, and soccer professionals to pursue a career in the sport they love.
We are only just scratching the surface of the talent pipeline in America and fans want to see them play each season – not just once every four years.
You are uniquely positioned to create an empowerment movement for little girls, like your own 8-year-old daughter, Quinn, to see themselves in all parts of the game- on the field and in leadership. Likewise, you can do the same for mothers in the League who may have felt they couldn’t both play and parent. Please share your personal thoughts about this.
Christina Unkel: For everyone, it will look different, and there is no “right” way to do it, but the important part is to recognize that it takes a village/community to enable us to grow into our full potential in the right season.
Serving as the inaugural President of the Super League Tampa Bay, I understand and appreciate the gravity and importance I can serve in continuing to highlight and normalize the human part of being a mother, a woman, a minority who is in a position of leadership and decision making.
This is important not only for our future women leaders but also for ALL our future leaders of all ages, races, demographics, identities, and socioeconomic positions.
What can local fans, supporters, and corporations do to contribute to the success and growth of the Super League?
Christina Unkel: Become a Club Supporter by signing up for the latest information! Share the news that a new professional sports team is in town and will launch its inaugural season in 2024! Activate your passion and excitement by securing your priority in line for season tickets by putting down a deposit!
Follow us on social media – be there for all of our firsts! Corporations – get in touch as we are building a community-focused professional team that is looking to partner with community and purpose-driven companies that understand the power of sports.
What is your favorite thing to do with your family in Tampa Bay?
Christina Unkel: There is a lot, but in our season of life, with my husband and our 8-year-old daughter, it is enjoying the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Zoo, and the latest – the roller coasters of Busch Gardens! (she’s now tall enough!)
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*Originally published in October 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine