June 7, 2023
Michele Kang, owner of the National Women's Soccer League’s (NWSL) Washington Spirit, recently acquired a majority stake in Olympique Lyonnais Féminin (OL Féminin), one of the top female football teams in the world. The storied club has won more UEFA Women's Champions League titles than any other.
She is bringing the two teams together to form a ‘first of its kind global multi-team women’s football organization.’ The American businesswoman turned venture capitalist views the effort as a major step forward for female sport.
“For the first time, significant resources will be devoted centrally to developing capabilities that will scale across multiple [women’s] teams, such as player performance, data analytics, global scouting, and sporting staff development," Kang said. "This kind of investment would not be possible with one club.”
Kang has plans to add additional clubs across Europe, the Americas and Asia to her growing stable in the months and years ahead.
Historically speaking, women’s football teams have largely been seen as add-ons to the men’s, particularly in Europe. However, Kang is building a platform with a female-first commercial approach that is proving increasingly viable.
“Women’s-focused team brands have an opportunity to thrive in unique ways given they aren’t an afterthought [anymore] and don’t have [the same amount of] red tape [as the men’s],” Rebecca Sowden (founder, Team Heroine and women’s sports director, WeAreFearless) said. “They can completely carve out their own unique story, brand, revenue models and paths–look at what Angel City has achieved this far.”
The Los Angeles-based NWSL club reportedly generated revenues in the ‘mid-eight figures’ in its first year of operation.
Angel City's success has inspired others to pursue the commercial potential within women’s football, too. Late last year, FC Viktoria Berlin announced it was splitting its women's team from the men’s. Since doing so, the German club has posted record attendance figures and has seen increased interest from commercial partners (see: recent deal with Nike).
By pairing uniquely valuable female sports assets with the benefits of multi-club ownership (think: operational efficiencies, player development) Kang may have incidentally paved a path for the growing number of private equity firms looking to invest in women’s sport (see: Monarch Collective, Sixth Street Partners).
“If you look at the way that some of the earliest PE in sport behaved, they took down a lot of multi-club ownership groups [or MCOs],” Dave Mirynech (CEO, Fan Club Sports Capital) said. That trend could be replicated on the female side as PE likes “the return profile [of multi club ownership] better than just one asset.”
An influx of investment capital could spawn the creation of more women’s MCO platforms, each seeking to acquire undervalued teams across key markets as Kang has begun doing.
“When you look at the [$35 million] investment [I made in Washington Spirit], from a multiple of revenue perspective, you can make an argument that it was undervalued –actually not just undervalued, but massively undervalued– compared to analogous team investments,” she said. "The market bore that out in the expansion process.”
The latest NWSL franchise, Bay FC, paid a league-record $53 million expansion fee.
Kang is hopeful that her latest investment, and the formation of a women's sports group, will open others' eyes to the opportunity.
“My hope would be that this transaction lets owners of women’s teams in Europe, especially those who own women’s teams that are affiliated with men’s teams, know that they are sitting on assets worthy of investing in, not from a DEI standpoint, but from a pure numbers perspective,” Kang said.
And the women's team doesn't necessarily have to be spun off for value to be realized.
"Simply investing more in the product can yield big dividends," Kang said. "You see it in the crowds at NWSL games now, you see it for Champions’ League and rivalry matches in Europe.”
The future looks bright for women's football.
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