On Friday, Michele Kang announced it you acquired London City Lionesses FC, an independent club competing in the FA Women’s Championship. The English club is another “building block” in his vision to grow his global multi-club organisation, following his deal earlier this year to take over OL Feminine and ownership of the Washington Spirit.
“As you can imagine, if you’re trying to build a pre-eminent women’s soccer organization, you have to be where the center of gravity is,” Kang said Atletico ahead of Friday’s announcement. “England is definitely one of them. “I was looking for an opportunity to land, and with London City Lionesses being the only independent team, it was a no-brainer.”
Instead of having to convince a men’s club to allow Kang to separate their women’s team from the club structure, Kang is immediately able to move up to the second tier of women’s football in England, with an eye on the WSL.
“Clearly, our goal is to get promoted,” Kang said with a smile.
This independent structure only came about because LCL founder Diane Culligan stepped in to help Millwall FC a few years ago as they struggled to finish the season on the women’s side. Culligan had already established herself in the youth sector independently.
While a self-contained women’s team model is the norm in the United States and other countries, that is not the case in England, where many teams are linked to top-tier men’s clubs.
“I think it’s fair to say that my ideas and the people who were running the club at the time were not compatible, and that’s when we decided to part ways,” Culligan said. “So London City Lionesses was born, and we went from there. The only truly independent women’s professional football team in the UK, if we’re talking about a professional game.”
The Lionesses are currently ninth in the Championship table, although they had finished second and third in the previous two seasons. Their manager is Carolina Morace and their home games are played at Princes Park in Dartford, 18 miles south-east of central London.
“We are halfway through the season, we will do everything we can to complete the season as effectively as possible,” Kang said. “We’ll figure out where we can surgically add some help here, in terms of resources, without disrupting what they’re doing.”
As has always been their plan, the Lionesses will retain their brand and identity post-acquisition, similar to how the Lyons and Spirit operate. The addition of another team also means another point of justification for more centralized resources in the multi-club organization. “I can make the kind of large-scale investment that men’s teams can afford to make,” Kang said.
In May, Kang said Atletico that his goal was to add three to five additional teams by the end of 2023. While the Lionesses are the only team he added this year, conversations about potential teams are ongoing around the world.
“We have some conversations going on in Asia; this will definitely be the first part of next year,” Kang said. “We will try to pick up where we left off.” He is still targeting other European countries, South America and Mexico, as he noted on Friday. Kang also said they have conversations have already started in Africa.
In the case of London City, Kang wants to balance the close of the 2023-2024 season with a long-term strategy of not just promotion, but becoming one of the best teams in the WSL and then winning it. Times are promising from a commercial perspective, with the main divisions moving to an independent structure outside the Football Association and under NewCo in November. The Lionesses must first earn promotion to earn this reward, but Kang has shown in the past that she is willing to invest for such an achievement.
“The NewCo model for BWSL and BWC is a great example of how women’s sports will be improved in England and around the world,” Kang said. “We need more investment focused solely on the women’s game so that resources are not compromised.”
There’s also a huge example for Kang to consider regarding the potential of moving into a lower division: Wrexham. There has already been in-depth storytelling about a Championship club promoted to the WSL, with Liverpool as the producer a 90 minute documentary of their move to the WSL. But it’s hard to ignore the way “Welcome to Wrexham” has brought attention and commitment to the lower divisions of English soccer here in the United States, and has also brought huge benefits to the team’s new ownership.
Asked if he had thought about it, he couldn’t help but laugh before replying: “Absolutely. “That’s what we’re here for and we will absolutely write another chapter.”
(Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)