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Reign for sale, Michele Kang to take over Lyon women: What it could mean for Spirit, Reign, Lyon and NWSL

• OL Groupe to sell Reign just three years after purchasing NWSL franchise
• Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang to buy majority control of Lyon’s women’s team from OL Groupe
• Three of NWSL’s 12 active teams now for sale

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

OL Reign is for sale again. The news was confirmed on Wednesday by majority owner OL Groupe while refuting details of a report from French outlet L’Equipe

OL Groupe’s response came to L’Equipe’s bombshell report that Michele Kang, the owner of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit, is purchasing majority ownership of the Olympique Lyonnais women’s team. 

Here’s what we know for sure, what we don’t know, what it all means, and how we got here:

What we know right now

This much is confirmed: The Reign, one of the NWSL’s eight original franchises, is for sale again. OL Groupe confirmed this in a press release on Wednesday. The Raine Group, an investment bank that has advised many major sports acquisitions, is in charge of the sale.

An NWSL spokesperson issued the following statement to The Equalizer: “We’re aware of OL Group’s interest in exploring the sale of OL Reign and will continue to work closely with them to ensure any potential owner(s) are aligned with our league’s vision and values.”

A spokesperson for the Reign said that all questions should be directed “to the current ownership group,” which had not replied to direct requests for comment as of publishing time.

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Kang will purchase a 52% stake in Lyon’s women’s team, the eight-time champions of Europe, per L’Equipe, which also reports that the team is currently valued at nearly €50m (about $55 million). Kang would be buying out 52% of the team and the remaining 48% would remain with the OL Groupe, beginning June 30. Since the report, the club has sent out a press release calling the article unverified and questioning both the ratification of an agreement and the terms.

Kang’s ownership of Lyon women would create a serious conflict of interest for Kang if OL Groupe remained the owners of the Reign, but OL Groupe’s confirmation that it is selling the Reign removes that concern from an NWSL board level. 

L’Equipe reports that the news will be confirmed at the OL Groupe board of directors meeting on Thursday. As a part of gaining the majority stake in the team, Kang will have to cover the women’s side annual deficit, which runs at nearly €12 million, per the report. 

What it means

For Kang, purchasing the historical European powerhouse team doubles down on her commitment to major investments in women’s soccer after setting a new bar for NWSL team valuations with her $35 million takeover of the Washington Spirit in early 2022. This also positions the Washington Spirit to greatly benefit from the relationship with Lyon, a club that has been home to and continues to attract the world’s best players. 

In the past, Lyon and the OL Reign have enjoyed a very successful partnership with loaning players back and forth with ease. Dzsenifer Marozsan, Sarah Bouhaddi, and Eugenie Le Sommer all joined the Reign on loan from Lyon in 2021. Once OL Reign has new ownership, the Spirit will get to be the NWSL team taking advantage of this mechanism.

Notably, the Spirit made an odd decision to do away with its historical red-and-blue branding in 2023 for a bland, black-and-white crest (and kits). Kang called it a “rebrand in progress.” Her positioning the Spirit as Lyon’s sister team is almost certainly related. 

In OL Groupe’s press release, the entity noted that it has “demonstrated its strong desire to create the first women’s multi-club, based on synergy across all continents” and “is currently talking with a number of new partners to develop its project  and even more reaffirm and amplify its position as the world leader in women’s football.”

Kang would be spearheading this with what we know today, and have known for the past decade to be, the Washington Spirit. It could mimic the model of Red Bull (on the men’s side) or City Football Group (on the men’s and women’s sides) building a global network of teams. 

For John Textor, the news means not having to worry about a team he likely wasn’t interested in, and freeing himself of debt associated with said team. Textor purchased Olympique Lyonnais late last year and was notably mum about the women’s operation, including both Lyon and the Reign. Additionally, in January Kang was spotted with Textor at a Crystal Palace match against Manchester United. The two are both deeply connected to the Palm Beach, Florida, area. Textor has stakes in clubs around the world, including Crystal Palace.

Textor also allegedly tweeted as recently as 2019 about the U-15 Dallas boys team that once defeated the U.S. women’s national team in a scrimmage, a classic troll argument in the years-long equal-pay lawsuit. One tweet might not sum up a person, but in the case of the U-15 truthers – as the popular radio segment goes – ‘that’s all I need to know about you.’

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For OL Groupe, selling the Reign right now makes financial sense. The French owners purchased the Reign for a valuation of $3.51 million in a deal that closed in the first weeks of 2020. Two years later, Kang bought the Spirit for 10 times that, setting a new bar. The Bay Area expansion group joining the NWSL in 2024 just paid a $53 million fee to join the league. OL Groupe certainly spent plenty of money on the Reign in the three years since, but they stand to make a considerable amount back in a potential sale.

For the Reign, it’s another moment of franchise uncertainty. In 2017, the Reign were staring down relocation (San Antonio and California were possibilities at the time) as the team looked for ownership amid ongoing financial losses. A move to Tacoma and the addition of several minority investors in 2019 was a short-term fix. In the end, so too was the OL Groupe sale.

Within a year of the takeover, former NBA player Tony Parker – who holds minority ownership of the Reign by way of his deal with Jean-Michele Aulas, the longtime orchestrator of Lyon’s women’s team who has since lost his power within OL Groupe – said that he (or perhaps “we”) wanted to move the Reign to Miami. The Reign refuted that report, but the seeds of doubt were there about OL Groupe’s commitment to the team and the Seattle market. Aulas had previously told The Equalizer that he wanted to bring an expansion team to Miami before OL Groupe decided to acquire the Reign. 

OL Groupe invested enough to get the team back in Seattle, at Lumen Field, which is a huge improvement from a converted baseball stadium in Tacoma. The OL takeover also stripped the Reign of arguably the best branding in the NWSL.

Now, the team looks for new owners who can potentially reconnect the brand more formally with the city of Seattle and rejuvenate it in a way that makes the Reign more relevant to a sports-crazy city. 

For the NWSL, the Reign are the third team now actively for sale, meaning one quarter of active teams in the league are on the market for sale. The Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns have been looking for new ownership since late 2022, in the wake of multiple reports about a league-wide culture of abuse and enablement. 

The OL Groupe’s purchase of the Reign was an uncomfortable move from the start for some within the NWSL’s board (which has changed drastically since then), including but not limited to how the NWSL team might be able to circumvent league rules to acquire players. That tension won’t be going away if the Spirit become Lyon’s new partner.

What we don’t know

As of yet, we don’t know who will buy the Reign. This time, unlike the threat of relocation six years ago and the dalliance with Tacoma (and maybe or maybe not Miami), the Reign – and the NWSL – are on more solid footing to stay in the market, especially with the improved training facility setup and calling Lumen Field home. 

Additionally, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman has been adamant that “relocation is always the last resort” for existing franchises. The NWSL is actively negotiating a new media rights deal and looking to cash in big. Relocation is ostensibly a sign of instability, and Berman & Co. will be keen to fend off any such perceptions of the league. 

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