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Sarasota attorney, entrepreneur dives headfirst into next big career challenge

Lawyer, referee, businesswoman, TV analyst and now soccer club president Christina Unkel accepts a new challenge.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. August 9, 2023
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Christina Unkel worked the 2019 World Cup as Fox Sports' rules analyst.
Christina Unkel worked the 2019 World Cup as Fox Sports' rules analyst.
Courtesy photo
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As Christina Unkel discusses her new job as club president of Super League Tampa Bay, one question comes up. 

When does she sleep? 

Unkel's days seem full, as the Sarasota resident is a mother of one, an attorney, a businesswoman, a wife and now leader of the only top-tier women's professional team in the region.

Unkel says she sleeps just fine, and at 36 years old, she now needs a minimum of between 6 to 7.5 hours a night. That's a higher number than the average in her past.

"The older I get, the more sleep I need," Unkel says.

Perusing her biography, Unkel is obviously a (soccer) ball of energy, graduating from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2008. She then headed to Stetson University for both a law degree and an MBA.

Unkel became a lawyer while still keeping her foot in the door of professional sports: Unkel was a soccer athlete and is a former FIFA referee. Her parents, both from Central America —  a region, like Europe, known for the love of soccer — raised her to have fun with the sport.

"There was always a soccer ball present," says Unkel.

But the young Unkel soon became fascinated by the laws of soccer. By 10, Unkel was so interested in the rules that she became an official referee.

Christina Unkel of Sarasota will be president of the USL's Tampa women's team.
Courtesy photo

Today she serves as the COO and state referee administrator for the Florida Soccer Referee organization of the U.S. Soccer State Referee Committee. Her soccer skills and eyes are so sharp, big news media came around to ask her to work as an analyst. She currently does work for CBS and Apple TV. And her work caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which profiled her in June, before her appointment.

Unkel passionately defends referees, and notes the abuse they take. But she also still calls them as she seems them. The Times noted Unkel once took issue on-air with a soccer call made by a referee who happened to be her husband, Ted.

Shortly after that profile, the "stars aligned," Unkel says, and the owners of the Super League Tampa Bay, looking for a club president, decided to pick Unkel on July 15. The team, so far unnamed, is part of the United Soccer League's new Super League. Super League will begin its inaugural season in August 2024 alongside 10 to 12 other teams, "bringing top-tier women's pro sports to the region for the first time," the league says in a statement.

That means Unkel will have about six months to get things organized, she says. She will probably accomplish that goal, for Unkel is a high achiever in sports and the boardroom. She remains an active attorney for some clients, she worked in business and now she has a high-profile commercial task to accomplish. But it was the task she always suspected she would undertake.

"I always knew I'd be doing something on the business side," says Unkel, referring to a realization she had while studying pre-law courses in college. "That was intriguing to me."

Sarasota's Christina Unkel (center) previously worked as a FIFA referee.
Courtesy photo

Her task this time is to help Super League succeed in professional women's sports when others have failed. Unkel points to the Women's United Soccer Association, which failed after three years in 2003, and Women's Professional Soccer, which folded after five years in 2012.

Such history does not scare Unkel. Women's soccer "has always been near and dear to my heart," she says.

Unkel notes she has had some experience with business startups, and her LinkedIn page lights up with sports-related experience in law and business. She is the co-owner of Scorch Fitness Brand of Sarasota, a training program in a group class setting. She is CEO of SPARQ Advocacy and Consulting, a "consulting and legal firm focused on athlete, coach, and sports organization representation in contract negotiations, licensing and endorsements, and business consultations."

Christina Unkel says "there was always a soccer ball present," while growing up.
Courtesy photo

Now she says "access and value" will guide her decisions as club president. While value seems like an obvious goal —  the club is hoping for a flood of fan deposits for tickets —  Unkel says access is a goal often dropped off another philosophy known as "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion," or DEI.

"The 'A' always seems to fall off," Unkel says.

To Unkel, access means giving people the ability to weigh in, to apply and to use their skills regardless of socioeconomic background. People just want a chance, Unkel says, and giving access will guide her presidency of the soccer club.

But what about Unkel's own access to her schedule? She seems standing before a tall task again, managing a new women's soccer club and trying to establish a professional women's team in Tampa Bay. Will she be able to manage the clock?

No problem, she says.

"You always have time for things," Unkel says.


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