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What Olympique Lyonnais’ takeover could mean for Reign FC

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Reign FC fans may have some questions, let’s try to answer some of them together

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On July 28 this year, Reign FC hosted the Chicago Red Stars in what was dubbed their “World Cup Homecoming” match. The club’s players that represented their respective national teams at the FIFA Women’s World Cup were honored in front of a franchise-record attendance for a single Reign FC home match, 7,479.

While they lost that match to Chicago, the atmosphere and sheer joy of a crowd so large to see the Puget Sound region’s NWSL side was not lost on the players and certainly a sign of the potential of what could be.

“Sponsors and people with money need to pour into the league,” said Reign FC midfielder Allie Long.

Jean-Michel Aulas, president and owner of French club Olympique Lyonnnais is indeed a person with money. Lots of it.

If you haven’t heard, Reign FC announced today that the club is closing in on selling a majority stake of the team to the French club’s parent group OL Groupe.

Not too long after the massive news bomb was dropped, a friend messaged me asking simply:

“WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?”

I jokingly replied with the iconic shrug emoji ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, yet perhaps there is just as much truth to it and based on what we know right now, it is the appropriate response.

There’s plenty to unpack about what this all means for the NWSL club, one that’s been in existence since the league was founded in 2012 and began play the following year. This piece isn’t so much answering the multitude of questions about what this change in ownership means for the NWSL club — we hope to get those questions answered in the coming days.

I’ll say this, the news is a proper bombshell. This is massive not just for Reign FC, but NWSL as a whole. Arguably one of the standard-bearers in the women’s game is now becoming a player in the NWSL. Back in October there was the initial report of the French club stating their intentions. I had conditioned myself at the possibility that Reign FC could be a potential club and yet, when the news dropped today, I was still shocked. Taking today’s news at face value presents I think an equal amount of prospects, all good for the future of Reign FC as much as there are questions of the nervous kind.

IS JEAN-MICHEL AULAS GOING TO BE VISITING TACOMA?!

Most likely and even if he wore a name tag saying, “Hello my name is Jean-Michel Aulas,” it’s unlikely anyone recognizes him, unless you’re a Reign FC player or club employee. If he hasn’t paid a visit to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium, surely he’s seen video footage and would eventually make a visit to see his investment in-person. His track record in transforming both men’s and women’s sides of the OL banner is nothing to scoff at and make no mistake about it, this is as big a player you’re going to get in the women’s game investing in your favorite NWSL club.

And if the content Gods really liked us simple mortals, we’d get livestreams of whenever Aulas and Portland’s Merritt Paulson are having a “debate.”

IS THIS GOING TO BE WOSO’S VERSION OF CHIVAS USA?!

Plenty of MLS fans remember the infamous Chivas USA. Is Lyon getting in the NWSL game going to run parallels to the last time a club with a powerful, recognizable brand wanted to create an extension in the United States? That remains to be seen. Obviously no one wants to see that happen in the women’s game, where the challenges of establishing any presence in a male-dominated sports world, regardless of city-size/market is pretty much a wall.

BUT WHAT’S TO STOP LYON FROM PACKING UP AND RELOCATING THEM?!

Sure, if the sale goes through as it expected, OL Groupe will have the majority ownership stake of Reign FC and can do whatever they want with it. Of course no one wants this scenario to happen a year, two years from now, or ever as long as any of us are alive. From what we know about Bill and Teresa Predmore is they’ve been determined to keep Reign FC where it is and make the club one of the marquee clubs not just in NWSL but in the the women’s game around the world. They should be given the benefit of the doubt that they would not have issued a press release about this eventual sale, let alone have any serious discussions with OL Groupe if they even caught a whiff of their intentions to buy the club, pack up some boxes, and relocate to another city/state.

Yes, Aulas has mentioned Miami with regards to OL having a presence there, but ask David Beckham how the Miami experience has been for him getting his MLS team finally up and running down there.

In Reign FC, there’s an existing infrastructure and fanbase. OL money could grow that to levels Reign FC haven’t been able to achieve before with a quite frankly overdue marketing campaign that could raise awareness and challenge the region to actually attend a match or two. OL money could cover production costs and buy airtime on local/regional TV so Reign FC matches, even on replay, could be watched on a conventional TV channel, free from any streaming platform restrictions.

As the press release itself stated, Bill Predmore will remain as Reign FC CEO after the sale is complete. Teresa Predmore will remain overseeing the Reign Academy. Of course it’s natural to be skeptical about OL Groupe buying the majority stake of ownership, but if the Predmore’s weren’t committed to the day to day operations of the club, they wouldn’t still be there and given full control to OL Groupe.

And again, giving the Predmore’s the benefit of the doubt here, they probably don’t want their legacy to be tainted by allowing the team they created, be sold, and shipped out to another state. If there’s to be a conversation about why Reign FC/women’s soccer “failed” in the Puget Sound Region, there is plenty of blame to go around beyond just the ownership group.

COULD (insert name) FROM LYON SUIT UP FOR REIGN FC?!

Maybe? Hopefully? Take a look at Lyon’s roster for this season and it’s very much an all-star squad. It’s been an all-star squad, even back to when Megan Rapinoe was playing for them in 2012-13 before she joined Reign FC for the inaugural 2013 NWSL season.

It definitely is fantasy football/soccer when you look at Lyon’s roster and see who could/would fans want to see put on a Reign FC jersey. Exciting it may be, it’s way too premature to seriously talk about who from Lyon might come over and play in a Reign FC shirt. Let’s not forget that the 2019 Reign FC squad, despite the injuries, were in the NWSL Playoffs and took the eventual champions North Carolina Courage the full 90 minutes before falling in extra time. The story of their season could have been completely different if the team was healthy.

When the team returns for the 2020 season, the returns of a fully recovered and healthy Jess Fishlock, Taylor Smith, and Jasmyne Spencer are just as big of pickups as, say, bringing in someone from the outside and new to playing in the NWSL. It could be possible that a younger player on Lyon’s side that may not see so many minutes behind basically an all-star team could join a future Reign FC roster to get that playing time for their development and then move up Lyon’s depth chart. That’s a reasonable practice/plan of player development. What can’t be done is taking Reign FC’s potential and sacrificing it so Lyon has a “feeder team.” Reign FC under present construction and with key players back and healthy, is a playoff contender and if everything clicks, a NWSL Championship contender.

If Reign FC have been able to achieve the successes they have up to this point with Bill Predmore’s savvy of working the phones and capturing lightning in a bottle with some trades and signings, just imagine what they can accomplish now with the financial backing of Aulas and his mutual vision of wanting to field some of the best teams possible.

COULD LYON POACH (insert name) FROM REIGN FC?!

Yep, that is certainly a possible. Aulas is all about keeping Lyon deep with talent and definitely players who make a lot of noise in NWSL will only get the attention of bigger clubs abroad, who can offer more money than any present NWSL contract, as long as the league operates with a salary cap. Australian international Sam Kerr finally left the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea after this NWSL season. This change in ownership definitely gives Lyon the inside track to constantly replenishing their star-studded lineups if Reign FC players continue to perform at playoff/title contending levels. The 2019 Reign FC squad definitely saw the emergence of players with bright futures and certainly if their game continues upwards, no doubt Aulas would like to see them wear a Lyon shirt and playing in a UEFA Champions League Final.

At the same time, if Aulus is serious about building a brand in the United States, he would be smart to focus on building the strongest team possible in Tacoma. He might not want to ruffle and feathers early on. Sure, keep your primary team loaded with stars continue domestic and continental dominance. You know what sounds better? Having two teams in two leagues in different countries dominant. Plenty of folks here in the Puget Sound region would love to have both professional soccer teams become and remain juggernauts.

DOES OL MONEY = A MATCH AT CENTURYLINK FIELD?!

Maybe? Hopefully? OL Groupe has a lot of money and a lot of money can do things like cover the rent and operational expenses of a match at CenturyLink Field. There are still a lot of logistics that need to be covered for that to happen, but as we previously wrote, if women’s soccer truly is something that this region cares about, then we need to see their drawing power at a venue like CenturyLink Field. And if OL Groupe is truly committed to investing in the NWSL, they must exercise what levers they have in making a match in Washington state’s premier sports stadium.

Whether it’s Cheney Stadium or the proposed soccer-specific stadium, those stadiums are still leaps and bounds bigger than what is Lyon’s women’s team primary home venue, Groupama OL Training Center, with a listed capacity of 1,524. Lyon’s women’s team does play their more high profile matches at the 59,186 capacity Groupama Stadium. It’s certainly reasonable that a similar setup could be in order for Reign FC if everything with the ownership change goes according to plan.

When Reign FC made the move to Tacoma and took in minority investors like the Hanauer family, it was to stabilize their foundation so it could be solid enough to build a proper future. Tacoma’s soccer-specific stadium may still be a couple of years away, but that vision appears to be on the right course to becoming a reality. OL Groupe now buying Reign FC could mean that building on that foundation could be a skyscraper. The near-future of the NWSL will have a team in Louisville in 2021, and all but confirmed, a team in Sacramento. With the increase in salary cap and compensation model, the league is entering a new era and Reign FC just found a massive new partner to help them keep up with the Joneses.

Invest in women’s sports and good things can happen. If teams in the NWSL are about to enter an arms race era because of increased attention in the game coming off the success of the World Cup, then Reign FC perhaps just got a massive pistolet de l’argent.