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Who might buy OL Reign?

Five potential new ownership groups, from sensible to fanciful.

New Seattle Storm Owners Attend Press Conference Photo by Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images

Following the surprise news last week that OL Groupe has hired an investment group to advise them on a potential sale of OL Reign as part of a larger restructuring in the wake of OL Groupe’s takeover by John Textor, the obvious question has been who or what group should purchase the Reign? We can likely rule out the Predmore family reacquiring majority control, since they sold control of the team to OL Groupe when it became apparent they could not keep up with the financial demands of a rapidly growing league and needed additional investment, and there’s no indication their net worth has suddenly increased 100-fold.

We can also rule out a community ownership model, as USSF requires first-division women’s clubs to have a principal owner who controls at least a 35% share of the club, has final authority for team decisions, and has a net worth of at least $15 million beyond the valuation of the club, as well as a combined ownership group net worth of at least $25 million. Ownership groups must also demonstrate a financial capacity to operate a club for at least three years.

Instead, let’s look at five other potential ownership groups who might have an interest in acquiring OL Reign, and consider the reasons they might or might not make sense.

1. Seattle Sounders / Hanauer family

One extremely obvious candidate is OL Reign’s Rave Green neighbors at Lumen and Starfire, the Sounders.

Why it makes sense: Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer would have no problem meeting NWSL wealth requirements and has assembled a diverse minority ownership group who either could join him in purchasing the Reign, or he could bring in a separate group, such as when he and his mother Lenore briefly purchased a minority share of the Reign when they first moved to Tacoma. The Sounders would bring a lot of marketing muscle, a huge mailing list, deep pockets, and access to high-quality facilities and resources, with ample space still available at Longacres to add more offices, locker rooms and an additional training field.

Why it doesn’t make sense: The Sounders have shown little to no interest in purchasing the Reign in the past, when it was a much less expensive proposition, and there’s no reason to think that has changed. Sure, Hanauer included a clause in the agreement with Tacoma for their ill-fated stadium project giving his personal assurance that an NWSL team would continue to play there should OL Groupe relocate the Reign, but that seemed to be focused on trying to get the stadium project approved for Defiance more than any desire to actually operate an NWSL club. Additionally, the Reign would likely be the third or fourth priority for the Sounders, behind the first team, Defiance, and their academy. As we’ve seen in other cities with shared MLS/NWSL ownership (and with EPL teams which also run WSL sides), the marketing and promotion know-how for men’s soccer does not readily translate to an audience which is interested in women’s soccer, and clubs have little motivation to devote a lot of resources and hire dedicated staff to promote their women’s teams, which are essentially in competition for eyeballs, advertising dollars, and ticket sales. After years of shoestring budgets, a small front office and high staff turnover, the Reign have finally built a long-term core staff with institutional knowledge which would be at risk with a Sounders takeover, putting them back to square one in terms of building their brand.

2. Force 10 / Seattle Storm

Another previous Reign partner which would be a logical candidate to purchase the club would be Force 10 Enterprises, the organization which owns and operates the Seattle Storm.

Why it makes sense: The Storm are inarguably the most successful WNBA franchise in history, with the highest valuation after establishing a precedent for successful, independent ownership. Force 10 recently sold a minority stake to help finance a new $64m practice facility and team offices in Interbay, which valued the franchise at a WNBA-record $151m. Force 10 has a strong record of success in marketing women’s sports in the region — the Storm were far and away the best-attended team in the WNBA last year — and there is clear crossover appeal between fanbases. The two organizations have held several popular ReignStorm events on days when both teams were playing at home, complete with special merchandise, and Force 10 partnered with the Reign in 2018 to provide ticket sales and services during their final season at Memorial Stadium.

Why it doesn’t make sense: A big question for Force 10 is whether the group has sufficient liquidity to make another large investment so soon after financing the construction of their training facility. Additionally, the WNBA and NWSL seasons overlap almost completely, which would limit the ability of a combined front office to share resources between organizations and could create marketing conflicts if both teams have games scheduled at the same time. While they might not fit as new majority owners, there are a lot of potential upsides to including Force 10 as minority partners in a new ownership group.

3. One of the global soccer brands

Why it makes sense: Why not move from one corporate ownership group with global ambitions to another? Both Red Bull Football and City Football Group have vast experience operating teams around the world, with Red Bull owning teams in MLS, Germany, Austria, and Brazil, while CFG owns clubs in MLS, England, Australia, Japan, China, India, Spain, Belgium and France. Each has essentially bottomless pocketbooks and a strong track record for putting competitive teams on the field. CFG also runs first-division women’s teams in many of the markets where they own clubs, while Red Bull currently only has a women’s side for RB Bragantino.

Why it doesn’t make sense: Aside from the negatives of being associated with yet another global brand that has no local connections, one of the big perks of shared ownership is sharing facilities and staff. With both RB and CFG running teams in the New York City area, it seems unlikely that either would want to take on a separate project 2,400 miles away. If either group wants to buy into the NWSL it would make a lot more sense to acquire Gotham FC or add an expansion team closer to their American sides, perhaps in Philadelphia or Boston. Plus, Reign City FC would be a pretty good name, but would we really want to rebrand as Red Bull Seattle?

4. MacKenzie Scott

Why it makes sense: Buying the Reign for $40 million would essentially be a rounding error on her quarterly financial statement. Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has been trying to give away her vast fortune through a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors. Although she has donated over $14 billion to date, her remaining Amazon stock continues to gain value and Forbes currently ranks her as the ninth-most wealthy woman in the world, with a net worth of over $23 billion. Much of her giving is focused on causes which align with those promoted by the Reign and their players — access to clean water, environmental justice and natural resource conservation, racial and gender equity, and sexual orientation. Perhaps she could convince fellow billionaire Melinda Gates to join her in championing local women’s sports as part of Seattle’s Ex-Wives Club.

Why it doesn’t make sense: There’s nothing to indicate that Scott has any interest in sports, let alone a desire to own a team. She rarely gives public interviews, and when she has talked about her wealth it was to vow that she would give away her obscene fortune and “keep at it until the safe is empty”. While some troglodytes still view women’s sports as a charity endeavor, woso’s exponential and continuing growth in recent years has shown that it is anything but.

5. Several dozen local celebrities and retired athletes

Why it makes sense: The latest trend in sports ownership is assembling a who’s-who of local celebrities and athletes to join together as an all-star ownership group. Locally we’ve seen it with the Sounders and Kraken, and in the NWSL teams from Angel City to Gotham to Kansas City to Chicago have added a number of famous names to their ownership suites in recent years. These groups generate a lot of media coverage and publicity, especially when the owners use their social media reach to continue promoting their team. A plethora of famous individuals who have ties to Seattle could come together to jointly purchase all or part of the Reign — people such as Brandi Carlile, Kenny G, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Cameron Crowe, Rainn Wilson, and even Sue Bird if we can convince her to sell her stake in Gotham. Megan Rapinoe could join that group when she eventually retires, and she has a lot of connections and could help organize the group.

Why it doesn’t make sense: The overwhelming majority of these all-star groups are minority owners, serving as a public face while another very wealthy individual holds majority control and bankrolls the club. In large part, this is because both MLS and the NWSL require the majority owner to be someone of significant wealth who is committed to underwriting the team and is able to risk potential losses. Few, if any, Seattle-area celebrities likely have both the wealth and risk tolerance to serve as a majority owner.

Are any of these options likely? Probably not, especially with a global investment advisory firm handling a very public sale. But I could see a super group of sorts come together to invest in the club: Force 10 could bring a lot of marketing smarts, local celebrities could see the appeal of connecting their names to a team in a league where many other clubs have star buy-in, and a wealthy local person like Hanauer or Jody Allen could see buying into a league which is rapidly growing in popularity and value as a savvy long-term investment and chance for some good press, while leaving the day-to-day operations to others.

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