Jason Wright and Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin Credit: Kelyn Soong

Jason Wright loves football. American football, obviously. But he loves the game much of the rest of the world calls football, as well. His 7-year-old son plays soccer, his 10-year-old daughter is a Manchester United supporter (“She likes Paul Pogba,” Wright explains), and he had D.C. United season tickets prior to the pandemic. He’s also a self-described “huge Liverpool fan.”

“I follow global football as closely as I follow anything else,” Wright tells City Paper. “So it’s a tough week for me. It’s a tough week [for Liverpool] to crash out of the Champions League and then still be looking on the outside in, but we love it. When we’re watching [soccer], we’re actually watching. We understand the flow of the game. We see a good cross that goes through the back post that no one’s there on it. That’s the kind of stuff we talk about when we watch as a family, so it’s fun.”

Wright was a special guest at Audi Field on Thursday night as the Washington Spirit beat Racing Louisville FC, 1-0, for its first win in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. The Spirit did not open the match to the general public, but several dozen fans—mostly staff and family and friends of the players—sat in the lower section on a chilly spring evening to cheer on the home team. Among them were Olympic champion Dominique Dawes and Dr. Kurt Newman, the president and chief executive officer of Children’s National Hospital, both of whom recently became investors in the Spirit.

The relationship between the Spirit and the Washington Football Team dates back to earlier this year, when Wright and Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin worked out an agreement to allow Spirit players to practice at the NFL team’s indoor practice bubble in Ashburn, Virginia. Wright, who joined the team last August, became the first Black team president in NFL history and has led the charge to find a new team name after the franchise owned by Dan Snyder finally retired its racist moniker last summer.

Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville FC at Audi Field on April 15 Credit: Kelyn Soong

Wright believes the Washington Football Team can learn from the Spirit. Several teams in the NWSL have turned to big-name investors to raise their profile.

“I love what they’ve done,” he says. “I think this idea of having dynamic, accomplished leaders, diverse leaders, that are investors in the organization, it actually gives you a better marketing strategy. It helps your community impact and your public profile, and it just allows the organization to accomplish things and have a network into places that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And I think both Steve and I share the view that we are more than sports franchises, that we are companies, that we are employers, but we’re economic development drivers, economic engine drivers for the region.”

It helps when the product on the field is something worth watching. On Thursday night, second-year forward Ashley Sanchez scored in the 93rd minute on a pass from rookie breakout Trinity Rodman to give the home team a victory. Afterward, the duo flexed their arms in celebration.

“It’s awesome,” Sanchez told reporters after the game. “I mean, we create a lot of chances with each other. And I think we’re working really well together. And I think it’s just gonna continue to grow the more games we get in and the more we’re playing with each other. So I think it’s awesome. She’s obviously really athletic and really good on the ball. And yeah, she’s definitely a great addition to the team.”

The Spirit will next play at Audi Field on April 27 against Gotham FC. Baldwin says that the team will allow up to 4,500 fans in the stadium. One of them might even be the president of the local NFL team.

“I think we’ll come out as often as we can,” Wright says. “As soon as fans are back, we’ll plan to be here as often as we can.”

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