The months-long ownership saga at the Washington Spirit has finally come to an end.
Y. Michele Kang, the minority investor that players had backed to take control of the club, will acquire the interests of outgoing majority owner Steve Baldwin and former majority owner Bill Lynch, the Spirit announced on Tuesday. Kang will work with other investors in a new ownership group.
“I spoke with Michele this morning and told her that Bill and I decided to sell her the team,” Baldwin said in a statement Tuesday. “I sincerely wish her, our wonderful players, and our staff the best.”
In a club news release, Kang and Baldwin were quoted praising one another — Kang commended “Steve Baldwin’s leadership, vision and formidable drive,” and Baldwin said he was “pleased that someone with Michele’s commitment to the Spirit will lead the team” — but Tuesday’s announcement marks the end of a drawn-out and bitter fight for control of the club.
In October, players on the Spirit got involved, issuing a public letter demanding that Baldwin stepped aside and “sell to Michele at a reasonable price.”
“Let us be clear. The person we trust is Michele,” the players wrote in a joint statement. “She continuously puts players’ needs and interests first. She listens.”
Baldwin resisted, even as Kang reportedly upped her offer to $35 million to compete with a $25 million bid from billionaire Todd Boehly and retail executive Jennifer Tepper Mackesy.
In January, Kang maneuvered what Baldwin later called a “coup attempt.” She had several non-voting, non-equity investors in the Spirit convert their promissory notes to become full shareholders, forming a new majority ownership group backing her. The NWSL approved the conversion of those investments last month, leaving Washington Soccer Properties, the ownership group managing the Spirit, to decide who would serve as the Spirit’s controlling owner.
The power struggle for control of the club was only one of the club’s several off-field controversies throughout a tumultuous 2021 season and start to 2022.
The NWSL stepped in and banned their coach after player reports of abuse failed to prompt Baldwin to act. Baldwin instead tried to re-assign the coach, Richie Burke, to a front office role. The Spirit also had to forfeit two regular-season games after a COVID-19 outbreak, earning a hefty fine for protocol violations too.
Despite all that, the Spirit won the 2021 NWSL Championship. The NWSL’s 10th season begins with the Challenge Cup on March 19.
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