Lyon's Jean-Michel Aulas is following through on his soccer wish list
of buying into the growing NWSL.
OL Groupe -- the investment firm of which Aulas is the majority owner -- announced on Monday that it is in exclusive talks to buy the NWSL's Reign FC from its majority owners Teresa Predmore and Bill Predmore, who have operated the team since the launch of the NWSL in 2013.
The deal is expected to close in January. The Predmores would remain as minority owners. Bill Predmore would stay on as CEO and Teresa Predmore would be president of the Reign Academy.
Aulas, a former Division I handball player who made his fortune in business software, has been the majority owner of Olympique Lyonnais since 1987. He first built Lyon into the dominant team in French men's soccer, transforming a second division team into the winner of Ligue 1 seven years in a row and a top 20 club in the world in term of its finances.
He bought women's club FC Lyon in 2004 and built OL into the greatest women's team ever assembled -- winner of 13 straight French league and six of the last seven French cup titles. It has also won four straight UEFA Champions League titles. In 2018-19, Lyon went unbeaten in 36 competitive matches, winning 33 games and tying the other three. In 15 matches this season, it had 14 wins and one tie (0-0 against Dijon in a league match).
Lyon has the largest budget of any women's team in the world and attracts all the best players, including 2018 Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg. In 2017, Aulas sold a minority interest in OL Groupe to Chinese investors. In 2018-19, it reported record revenues of more than $340 million.
“Growing the club, the league, and the sport demands increased investment in our facilities, our staff, our players, and the league,” Bill Predmore said in a statement. “OL has the capacity to make these needed investments, and the knowledge and experience to make those investments in the manner most likely to yield results. We believe the combination of OL’s experience and expertise with our knowledge of the market and league will allow future investments to deliver the optimal impact to the club and to the NWSL.”
OL Groupe's investment in Reign FC comes at a critical time. The cost of operating an NWSL team will increase significantly in 2020 with spending on players (salaries and allocation money) doubling from 2019. Reign FC moved from Seattle to Tacoma to play at Cheney Stadium in 2019 because Memorial Stadium, a high school stadium that housed the Sounders in the 1970s, was no longer a viable option.
As part of the Tacoma move, the Predmores brought in the Hanauer family, majority owners of the Seattle Sounders, and Tacoma Soccer Ventures as minority investors. Their interests will be sold as part of the deal with OL Groupe.
One important piece of soccer business Reign FC has to attend to is find a new coach. Vlatko Andonovski, its coach in 2018 and 2019, was appointed the head coach of the U.S. women's national team.