In December 2022, when American John Textor became the majority owner of OL Groupe — the company that owns 89.5% of OL Reign — it felt like not much at all would change for the Reign for quite a while.
Jean Michel-Aulas, who was committed to treating women’s soccer as equal professionals alongside men’s soccer, would remain in charge of the organization. Ride of the Valkyries sources close to the club confirmed that front-office staff believed nothing would change as well. If anything, OL Groupe said, more money would be available to help grow the clubs.
Things changed in April 2023, however, and now OL Reign fans are left in shock as the club is up for sale. Here’s a timeline of some of the key events that unfolded in the last year, leading to the sale of OL Reign.
NOTE: This timeline was updated on July 28, 2023, with new details. All new mentions are in italics.
March 10, 2022: Pathé and IDG Capital announce their intentions to sell their shares of OL Groupe, which represent 19.36% and 19.85% of the capital, respectively.
In a statement about this news, OL Groupe commits to strengthening its financial structure in order “to enable the continuation of development projects, which include in particular the multipurpose Arena, the construction of which has begun and which is part of the OL Vallée project; the OL Reign women’s team in Seattle (United States); and OL Groupe’s investments in ASVEL, whose men’s team has been a permanent member of the Euroleague since the 2021/22 season.”
June 9, 2022: Foster Gillett — the son of former Liverpool owner George Gillett — is said to be Jean-Michel Aulas’ preferred takeover candidate. L’Équipe reported that the deal would be close to 600 million Euros, which included an additional €100 million in capital. Around this time, news began to emerge that in addition to Pathé and IDG selling their shares, Jean-Michel Aulas was also considering selling his share via his company Holnest. That would make the new owner the majority owner of OL Groupe.
Talks with Gillett soon stall.
June 21, 2022: OL Groupe shareholders Pathé and IDG Capital announce in a press release that they have entered into exclusive negotiations with John Textor’s Eagle Football Holdings LLC. In addition to buying out Pathé and IDG’s shares, Eagle Football will also buy out a majority of Jean-Michel Aulas’ shares.
September 30, 2022: OL Groupe announces that the formalization of the sale to Eagle Football had been postponed until October 21.
October 20, 2022: OL Reign announces that Starfire Sports Complex will be the team’s new permanent training facility. After the Sounders move to Longacres in 2024, the Reign will be the only professional soccer team training at Starfire, a significant upgrade from the facilities the club had used in prior years.
October 21, 2022: OL Groupe announces that the deal would be postponed yet again, with a new deadline of November 17. Lyon said in a statement that there has been “substantial progress” in the talks with Eagle Football.
December 13, 2022: According to a document obtained by L’Equipe, Jean-Michel Aulas submitted a plan to the DNCG — France’s football financial watchdogs — that included €112 million in player sales before a June 30, 2023 deadline.
December 20, 2022: On December 19, Eagle Football becomes the majority owner of OL Groupe, the organization that owns 89.5% of OL Reign shares, by buying out the Pathé, IDG, and a majority of Holnest shares. Textor also adds €86 million in capital, which Aulas confirms “will be devoted in part to recruitment to strengthen the teams.”
OL Groupe confirm that Aulas would remain as president for at least the next three years. That means Aulas would continue to have independent decision-making authority and would keep his current leadership team. Ride of the Valkyries also independently confirmed that OL Reign did not expect the sale to impact their operations.
“We are already thinking together about how we can strengthen our strategy to regain the highest ambitions in soccer for our men’s and women’s teams, but also for you, the fans, whose expectations we value immensely,” Textor said in a statement.
February 7, 2023: Olympique Lyonnais, OL Reign, and Club América announce a new partnership to share resources to advance women’s soccer on an international level, including at the academy level. That begins with the Reign hosting América in a preseason friendly at Starfire Stadium.
February 2023: Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang becomes a minority shareholder in Eagle Football Holdings.
March 21, 2023: Kang joins the board of Eagle Football Holdings.
March/April 2023: According to interviews Jean-Michel Aulas gives in July, his strategy for presenting a financial plan to the DNCG shifted at some point in March — presumably because of feedback from Textor. He confirms that his new plan shifted to four levers: refinancing the stadium, selling OL Feminin, selling OL Reign, and transferring players. JMA also notes in these interviews that Textor was not his first choice as buyer.
April 12, 2023: After a L’Équipe article claimed Kang was buying OL women, OL Groupe issues a statement denying the rumor while adding a new bombshell: they are selling OL Reign. The Raine Group will be in charge of finding a buyer and facilitating the sale. The Raine Group served as the lead financial advisor for the sale to Eagle Football, as well as several other high-profile club sales in recent years.
L’Équipe claims that an agreement was reached between Kang and Textor several weeks ago. The two investors, the French newspaper notes, are friends and neighbors in Palm Beach, Florida.
May 8, 2023: OL Groupe announces that Aulas will step down after 36 years in charge of the French club, rather than staying on as president until 2026 as originally planned. Textor will serve as interim CEO. Aulas will receive exit compensation of 10 million euros, along with a suite at Groupama Stadium, reimbursement of professional expenses related to his activities within OL Groupe, and a company car.
L’Équipe also notes that Eagle Football must buy back, within three months, a third of the shares still held by Aulas’ Holnest to acquire stadium construction bonds. The total is estimated to be nearly 15 million Euros (three euros per share).
In return for this deal, Aulas agrees not to bring any recourse or action against OL Groupe.
Aulas’ investments in OL women helped the club dominate European football, winning a record eight Champions League titles. According to L’Équipe, who broke the news, tensions between Textor and Aulas mounted recently over how the new owner was managing things (presumably, the impending sale of OL women).
May 11, 2023: According to a report from RMC Sport, Textor needs to raise €130 million in order for the club to not receive a sanction by the DNCG. When Textor completed his takeover of Lyon, he showed the DNCG a business plan which was based in part on yearly revenue from qualification to the men’s Champions League. Lyon men are sixth in Ligue 1 and won’t qualify for next year’s Champions League, which leaves Textor several tens of millions of Euros short of his business plan.
According to RMC Sport, Textor must also commit to launching a takeover bid to buy back the shares of small shareholders — also called “free float” shareholders (12.13% of the shares).
Some of this shortfall will be addressed through player transfers, but RMC Sport notes that a large majority could come from the rumored sale of OL women and OL Reign, which is estimated to bring in around €100 million. RMC Sport also reports Eagle Football is considering an IPO in the United States to raise more funds.
If Textor does not satisfy their demands, the DNCG could take control of the payroll or enforce a limitation on the number of transfers, a ban on recruiting, or even relegation.
May 12, 2023: L’Équipe reports that interested buyers have already reached out to Raine Group expressing interest in purchasing OL Reign.
The story also notes the sale of OL women to Michele Kang has dragged on due to leaks and “Jean-Michel Aulas’ reluctance to give up part of the management of one of his jewels.” With Aulas now out, the sale to Kang is reportedly progressing quickly.
May 13, 2023: Kang attends Lyon’s victory in the final of the women’s Coupe de France and is seen wearing a medal and hoisting the trophy with the team.
May 16, 2023: It’s official. OL Groupe officially announce they are forming a global multi-team women’s football group in conjunction with Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang, who will serve as majority owner and CEO of the newly formed, yet-to-be-named group.
Pending approval from the NWSL, OL Groupe will contribute its women’s team to this new group while Kang will contribute her stake in the Spirit, with a plan for the new company to acquire additional clubs around the globe.
Kang claims in a statement to The Athletic that Textor was already in discussion to sell OL Reign prior to her conversations with her neighbor and friend. This is later contradicted in an interview Textor gives to The Athletic in July.
June 28, 2023: OL met with the DNCG to present their financial plan. According to L’Équipe, Textor received a letter from the DNCG asking for €60 million by June 30. On the day of their meeting, the DNCG postponed a decision and asked for more details from Textor and team.
July 4, 2023: After providing more details, the plan did not satisfy the DNCG. Until additional cash is injected into the club, the DNCG will oversee OL’s player payroll and transfers.
July 13, 2023: New OL president Santiago Cucci tells Le Progres they’ve received 28 offers for OL Reign, but only two serious ones.
July 18, 2023: OL appealed the DNCG decision but did not win the appeal, so the DNCG will continue to supervise player payroll and transfers.
Textor posted a statement on his personal blog about the DNCG’s decision, which leads with “Welcome to France ...” In the statement, he notes that he provided another €60 million, presumably to cover the sale of OL Reign, which hasn’t happened yet. It appears that €60 million was in the form of equity and not additional cash.
July 28, 2023: In a conversation with The Athletic, Textor confirms that OL must sell the Reign due to the conflict of interest with Michele Kang owning OL Feminin. “That’s the reason we’re selling OL Reign, because otherwise we would have joint ownership of two NWSL teams, with the Washington Spirit.”
Textor says that while nearly 30 parties have expressed interest in buying OL Reign, “a much smaller group have shown themselves to be serious and capable. There’s about half a dozen in that category.” Textor says OL expects the sale to close before the end of the year, and while they don’t have a value range yet, they expect around $53 million since that was what the Boston and San Francisco ownership groups paid to become franchisees in the NWSL.
Ride of the Valkyries / Sounder at Heart understands there are multiple local groups interested, but their identities are not yet known.
Textor appears to be in a pretty desperate financial situation, with immediate funds needed to fill the gap demanded by DNCG — along with what is owed to Aulas’ Holnest and the remaining small shareholders. This could speed up the sale of OL Reign. With local buyer groups already interested, that could mean good news for Reign fans in a timeline much faster than expected.
At the same time, the NWSL has to approve the deal, and the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars still haven’t sold despite rumored interest in both cities. The Thorns and Red Stars were put up for sale at the beginning of December 2022.