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Washington Spirit supporters’ group Rose Room Collective had a two-word response in the form of a Lord of the Rings meme to news of the Spirit’s new ownership: “It’s done.” After a highly contentious and public ownership battle that lasted months, Michele Kang has been named the new controlling owner of the Spirit and takes over the franchise from outgoing owners Steve Baldwin and Bill Lynch. Kang, who was brought on as a Spirit co-owner in late 2020, will work with other investors to lead the new ownership group after acquiring the interests of Baldwin and Lynch, the team announced Tuesday. She is the first Asian American woman to own an NWSL team.
It’s a move that Spirit players and many of the team’s fans had been advocating for since last year.
“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,” Kang said in a statement announcing the ownership change. “I can’t wait to begin work with our talented, resilient players and staff.”
Baldwin is also quoted in the press release, saying that he spoke with Kang and wishes her the best. “I am incredibly proud of what the Spirit has accomplished over the past few years, culminating in the 2021 NWSL championship,” he said. “I am pleased that someone with Michele’s commitment to the Spirit will lead the team in its next chapter. I spoke with Michele this morning and told her that Bill and I decided to sell her the team. I sincerely wish her, our wonderful players, and our staff the best. My hope for 2022 is that the Spirit become the first ever DC premier league sports team to win back-to-back championships. Go Spirit.”
The cordial comments belie the public and often combative feud between Kang, the founder and chief executive officer of the local technology company Cognosante, and her former co-owners that began last year. The Spirit endured a tumultuous 2021 season that improbably ended with its first NWSL title. In September, former Spirit head coach Richie Burke was fired for cause after multiple former players accused him of verbal and emotional abuse, and an NWSL investigation into Burke and the team’s culture under Baldwin found that the club violated the league’s workplace and anti-harassment policies.
On Oct. 5, Spirit players put out a unified statement on their social media accounts throwing their support behind Kang.
“The person we trust is Michele,” the players wrote in a letter directed at Baldwin. “She continuously puts players’ needs and interests first. She listens. She believes that this can be a profitable business and you have always said you intended to hand the team over to female ownership. That moment is now.”
But the battle would drag on for months after that letter. In mid December, the NWSL announced that a proposed ownership group led by retail executive Jennifer Tepper Mackesy and Los Angeles Lakers, Sparks, and Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly had entered “exclusive negotiations” to finalize acquisition of the Spirit. But the Athletic reported the following month that Kang had “potentially wrested control” of the franchise from Baldwin and Lynch by reportedly convincing eight of the Spirit’s debt-holders to convert their debt to equity.
It appears Kang’s tenacious efforts have paid off, and the team can now finally move forward as the defending NWSL champions without an ownership battle looming over their heads.