When Olympique Lyonnais Féminin (or OL)—one of the best women’s soccer clubs in the world—won the Coupe de France soccer tournament on Saturday, U.S. entrepreneur Michele Kang was there, cheering the team and lifting the trophy. Today, the club announced that Kang, owner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team the Washington Spirit, will become the primary owner of Lyon. The deal is expected to close in June.
The agreement, according to a news release, will “create the first of its kind global multi-team women’s football organization.” Kang will become the majority owner and CEO of the newly formed company, “making it the first-ever woman-owned, women-led multi-club football organization.”
“This deal represents a major step forward in the history of women’s professional football,” said Kang in a statement. “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.”
Born and raised in South Korea, Kang is the founder and CEO of health IT consulting company Cognosante. Last March, she became the majority owner of the Washington Spirit, after a months-long back-and-forth that began when Kang called for then co-owner Steve Baldwin to cede control of the team after a series of abuse and mismanagement allegations. Kang ultimately bought out Baldwin and fellow former co-owner Bill Lynch’s shares at a record valuation of approximately $35 million, making her the first woman of color to own a NWSL team.
Lyon is considered the most successful team in the French women’s soccer league, Division 1 Féminine. And the league is one of the best—if not the best—women’s soccer leagues in the world. Still, the club has faced challenges. In April, it was reported that Kang paid nearly 12 million pounds to cover the team’s annual deficit. And in 2022, the team was ordered to pay Icelandic player Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir more than $89,000 following a landmark maternity pay case against the club.
Unlike soccer teams in the U.S., the men’s and women’s Lyon teams were held together under one firm, OL Groupe. In December 2022, Eagle Football Group, controlled by American billionaire John Textor, became the primary owner of OL Groupe. Lyon is estimated to be worth $939.4 million.
Textor’s Eagle Football holds major stakes in soccer teams around the world, including in the British Premier League team Crystal Palace, Brazilian Série A team Botafogo, Belgian First Division B team RWD Molenbeek, and American NWSL team OL Reign—which is reportedly up for sale. According to the Financial Times, Eagle Football plans to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) this year and is targeting a US $1.2 billion valuation. Such a maneuver would be a first for the soccer industry.
Valuations for NWSL teams have risen in recent years. Los Angeles’s Angel City FC was valued at $100 million last August, and the League’s Bay Area expansion team recently secured a $53 million fee from investors. Even so, many are not yet profitable. One source claims that NWSL teams lose between $3 million and $4 million each year, on average. Men’s clubs, meanwhile, can command valuations that are upwards of hundreds of millions, and even billions, of dollars.
But the newer and often women-led ownership groups of NWSL teams are confident in their investments, and having a trans-Atlantic footprint could present even more opportunities. Soccer fandom runs deep in Europe, and professional women’s games regularly smash attendance records. (Last April, 91,000 fans attended a Women’s UEFA Champions League semi-final game between Barcelona and Wolfsburg.) Kang has already signaled that her newly formed company will look to acquire additional clubs around the globe.
“The combination represents hope, determination, and the necessary business steps toward shaping the future of women’s football,” she said in a statement.