The Wave’s performance is personal for Ellis. After she left the U.S. women’s team, she began consulting for the billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who wanted to start a new N.W.S.L. club. As she listened to him describe the type of team he wanted to create, she realized she could be the one to do it.
“I was like, ‘Ron, you know, I didn’t go to Wharton,’” Ellis said, referencing the business school at the University of Pennsylvania. “But I think I can build a club, and I want to run the whole dang thing.”
So instead of pacing the sideline and analyzing opponents for vulnerabilities, Ellis is watching games from a suite, sizing up attendance figures and weighing how much fans should have to pay for parking. Ellis has embraced the more logistical aspects of her new job, receiving a crash course in terms like “dynamic pricing” and “digital marketing,” and deciding if the Wave’s uniform shorts should be pink or white (she went with pink). She proudly points out that it was her idea for there to be a wave motif passing through the uniforms’ numbers.
One thing Ellis didn’t need to learn, though, is that the key to the franchise’s overall success would be wins on the field. The first player she signed was someone she knew very well: Abby Dahlkemper, a defender whom Ellis recruited to the University of California, Los Angeles, coached at the 2019 World Cup and decided to build the Wave roster around. For the Wave’s second signing, Ellis went with Alex Morgan, the face of American soccer. Neither of them needed much convincing.
“Anything Jill is involved in, excellence is included in that,” Dahlkemper said.
When it came time for Ellis to find a manager, she was committed to hiring a woman. Another club president told her that there weren’t many good female coaches in the hiring pool, prompting Ellis to inform him that he had clearly been looking in the wrong places. She hired Casey Stoney, a former England player, who was named the league’s coach of the year for the 2022 season.