OL Groupe, the holding company of French top-tier soccer’s Olympique Lyonnais, has entered into a deal with Michele Kang, the owner of the Washington Spirit from the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), for the creation of a new joint entity.
Through the tie-up, Kang will become the majority owner and chief executive of the “first of its kind global multi-team women’s football organization,” which will look for additional women’s teams to acquire in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Kang will also join the OL Groupe board of directors.
OL Groupe will contribute its OL Féminin women’s team, while Kang – a US tech entrepreneur and businessperson – will offer up her majority share in the Spirit. This will give the new entity its two founder sides.
In addition, OL Groupe will support the new entity by providing services and facilities, such as the Lyon home stadium, the team’s training center, and the OL Academy.
To avoid a conflict of interest, OL Groupe has begun the process of selling off the NWSL side it currently owns, OL Reign, which is based in Seattle and was acquired in December 2019.
In a statement, Kang said: “This deal represents a major step forward in the history of women’s professional football. It brings together the unparalleled tradition of the eight-time Champions League-winning OL Féminin and the dynamism of the 2021 NWSL champion Spirit to usher our sport into a new era. It is a great honor to take stewardship of OL Féminin and lead this unprecedented effort on behalf of the fans, players, and staff of both teams.”
John Textor, chief executive and chair of OL Groupe, added: “With a tradition of winning that is unmatched in the world of women’s football, OL Féminin has a unique opportunity in this growing market to build the Olympique Lyonnais global brand for the benefit of OL Groupe and for our remarkable athletes. Today’s agreement with Michele creates the ideal vehicle to accomplish that objective, securing an exciting future for OL Féminin.”
The deal is subject to approval by the NWSL and from various third parties in France. Closure is expected at the end of June.
A joint statement has said that each club acquired will maintain its own identity, while the new ownership will “continue to invest strategically to upgrade infrastructure and grow the fan base for each club.
“In parallel, significant resources will be devoted centrally to developing capabilities that will be shared across all teams.”
This move by OL Groupe comes the week after Textor formally became the company’s new chair, replacing the outgoing Jean-Michel Aulas.
Through his Eagle Football Holdings firm, Textor acquired 78% of OL Groupe shares in December. The deal valued that company at around €800 million ($875.7 million).
The OL Féminin women’s side has enjoyed substantial recent success, winning five consecutive UEFA Women’s Champions Leagues between 2016 and 2020, and is considered one of the foremost European women's soccer outfits.
The team has also won a total of 15 domestic league titles.
Washington Spirit, meanwhile, have won one NWSL Championship, in 2021, but then finished 11th in the league’s 12-team table last year.
Kang has been the team’s majority owner since March 2022 and, in February, became a minority shareholder in Eagle Football Holdings, which acts as Textor’s investment vehicle into soccer.
Eagle has stakes in Lyon, England’s Crystal Palace, Botafogo in Brazil, and RWD Molenbeek in Belgium.
Elsewhere, the French esports side Team LDLC, which has had a relationship with OL Groupe since 2020, will shut down its operations in July, according to the LDLC French tech retail firm.
The team has operated since 2010 and has fielded players in competitions such as League of Legends, FIFA, and NBA 2K.
In a statement, LDLC said: “If the teams benefit from a wide reputation and recognition among passionate gamers, they have not – despite the efforts made – managed to find a sufficient place with the general public. Thus, the LDLC Group and OL Groupe have decided in advance to end their LDLC OL partnership from the end of July 2023.
“The end of this partnership will also mark for LDLC Event its withdrawal from the esports scene and its operational activities in this sector.”
The partnership between Team LDLC and OL Groupe began in January 2020, with the team renamed LDLC OL.
Image: Elsa/Getty Images