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Michele Kang to become controlling owner of Washington Spirit

Michele Kang (right) will be the Spirit's new controlling owner. (Photo: Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer)

Michele Kang will become the new controlling owner of the Washington Spirit after acquiring the interests of partners Steve Baldwin and Bill Lynch, the team announced on Tuesday. The resolution brings to an end a public, months-long battle between Kang and Baldwin over future ownership of the team.

Kang “will be the controlling owner, working with other investors in a new ownership group” which is “committed to substantial new investments into the team’s staff, operations and infrastructure,” the team said in a press release.

Kang cleared a major hurdle in January when the National Women’s Soccer League’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the conversion of Washington Spirit debt investors into full equity shareholders, a tactic which Kang used to flip leverage in her favor as Baldwin negotiated with another group in an attempt to freeze out Kang. The conversion of debt investors to full equity shareholders made them voting members of the ownership group, and Kang had rallied enough support to potentially take over the team. The NWSL’s board left the process of a final vote on controlling interest with the Spirit organization, based on their ownership’s operating agreement.

A league spokesperson confirmed to The Equalizer that Kang “was already conditionally approved” as controlling owner in the previous vote, and now just needs to meet some standard legal conditions for the official takeover. Any new owners or investors would need approval from the NWSL board.

Tuesday’s announcement indicates that it did not come to a vote. Baldwin said in a statement that he “spoke with Michele this morning and told her that Bill and I decided to sell her the team.”

Baldwin had been negotiating with a group backed by billionaire Todd Boehly, who has ownership in the LA Lakers, LA Sparks and LA Dodgers. Boehly’s group reportedly valued the Spirit at $25 million, while Kang was willing to pay $35 million, The Equalizer previously confirmed. It was not immediately clear what the final valuation and sale price of the Spirit would be.

Throughout the fall, Spirit players publicly backed Kang and demanded that Baldwin sell the team to her. They did this while marching to a first NWSL Championship title in November.

The Spirit have been suspended from the NWSL board and all league governance since late September, following a league investigation into the club’s culture which led to the ultimate firing of former head coach Richie Burke. The Equalizer previously reported that Baldwin’s removal as owner was necessary for the Spirit to be reinstated. A league spokesperson told The Equalizer that the board still needs to formally reinstate the Spirit, which should happen at the next board meeting. The Spirit were unable to participate in final voting on the league’s first collective bargaining agreement due to their suspension from the board.

In a brief statement issued by the club, Kang thanked both Lynch and Baldwin:

“I personally appreciate, and want to publicly recognize Bill Lynch’s pivotal work as the founding owner of the Spirit bringing women’s professional soccer back to our nation’s capital, and also Steve Baldwin’s leadership, vision and formidable drive in building the Spirit and the outstanding roster that won the 2021 NWSL Championship. I can’t wait to begin work with our talented, resilient players and staff.”

This is a breaking-news story. It will be updated.


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