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Evolution, not wholesale change, as Reign FC becomes part of OL Groupe family

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A rebrand, new front office staff, and stadium ambitions.

Photos: Seattle Reign unveil their new kits

Our hour-long interview with Reign FC CEO Bill Predmore touched on a lot of topics that Reign fans are wondering about as the team prepares for its eighth season of play in the National Women’s Soccer League, ranging from the hiring of new head coach Farid Benstiti to roster construction, to operational changes now that Reign FC is part of the Olympique Lyonnais family.

The first two topics were covered in prior stories in this series; here we look at the operational changes fans can expect to see in the coming year, ranging from overt changes such as a rebrand to more subtle things happening in the background to help boost revenue, contribute to the Tacoma stadium project, and grow Reign FC and OL Groupe as a global brands.

OL Reign FC?

Perhaps most significant for fans is a report that the team is planning a rebrand to reflect that they are now part of the OL family. Predmore confirmed that the rumors are true, although he was hesitant to share too many details ahead of an official announcement, saying only that news should come before the start of pre-season in March.

He also talked about how the process has led him to reflect on the team name and brand and how his thinking on it has changed in the seven years the team has been in existence.

“It’s hard for me to talk about it objectively. I love the mark, I love the name,” he reminisced. “I remember talking about it 7 years ago, about what it could be, I thought about it in a very literal sense. And now when I hear it, it’s much more for me about the value to the club and the stories and the history there, so it’s tough on one hand for me to consider changing it. I just love it. That being said, this is a new era for the club and I think it’s totally appropriate to have that change reflected in the brand in a way that I think respects the past, where we’ve been, but also looks forward and incorporates the ties with OL. So I think the trick here is to come up with a new identity that reflects those pieces. I’m very hopeful that people will be excited about what we come up with.”

Although Predmore isn’t ready to reveal any news about the rebrand yet, that hasn’t stopped fans from speculating online. Last week I uncovered several domain names which were registered when OL Groupe’s purchase of the club was announced and a new LLC was formed to hold the club’s assets. We asked Predmore whether those domain names might suggest the direction they are planning to go with the rebrand; he humorously replied, “I will say this – the name of the LLC that is the operating entity for the club, which I think is reflected in the domain name registrations, is OL Reign LLC. It might be premature to make assumptions, or it might not... it’s hard to say. But we’ll know soon enough!”

Front office additions

On the front office side, Predmore confirmed reports that Vincent Berthillot will be joining Reign FC in the newly created position of Chief Operating Officer; he and his family are expected to arrive in Tacoma by early March. Berthillot’s prior role was as deputy CFO of Olympique Lyonnais. Predmore spoke highly of their experience working together during negotiations for OL Groupe to acquire the club.

“Vincent was part of the deal team for OL, so he and I had been working pretty closely together now for four months, since the start of the deal,” noted Predmore. “Vincent has been described by the folks at OL as kind of the ‘rising star’ within the organization. Everything I’ve seen from him in the last few months, I have no trouble believing that. He’s been fantastic to work with.

“He has a finance background, which he has blended with talents on the operations side, which for me is that perfect combination, so he and I will work together very closely. I think he fills a gap for us – we’ve never really had anybody in that ops role in the past, so we talked conceptually with the folks at OL about adding a person in this role, and when they decided that Vincent was going to be the guy I was super happy. He’s super smart, super passionate, I think he’s a massive addition to front office side of the business. I’m super happy to have him on board.”

Predmore does not expect any other staff from Lyon to join the group in Tacoma, at least in the near future, but looks forward working with the OL Groupe staff in France. “I think there will be collaboration between our staff here and staff in Lyon, but there hasn’t been any discussion about bringing anybody else out. Operationally we’re going to need to be independent from what they’re doing. It’s a long ways away, so we’re going to have to be relatively self-sufficient, but I think on strategic questions there’ll be a lot of collaboration, on marketing and sponsorship there’ll be a lot of collaboration, but it’s going to be done over the phone as opposed to with somebody sitting in the office.”

Berthillot will be focused primarily on the business side of the club, aiming to boost revenues through ticketing, sponsorships and merchandise. One thing that won’t change is the current kit sponsor. Predmore confirmed that the team remains in a multi-year deal with Zulily, and he was very happy with their experience in the first year of that deal.

“I think they have done as much or more than we could have expected in embracing the club,” he observed. “It really felt like they’ve gone above and beyond in terms of trying to celebrate the partnership and do work around it, so I’m super happy and proud to have them back with us.”

In the longer term, OL Groupe’s investment in Reign FC is about more than just one club in the United States. “I think OL’s ambitions – Jean-Michel [Aulas] talked about this – are broader than simply our club,” noted Predmore. “It’s about growing the OL brand, so at some point I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others joining the business, maybe straight from OL or folks that OL is hiring here, that may not be focused on the Reign but are focused on other aspects of OL’s business.”

However, he noted that such discussions are still in very early stages and Aulas remains committed first and foremost to the success of each team, to the point that he attends every home OL match, and travels to numerous away matches. He is planning to attend Reign FC’s home opener this season, and possibly additional games as his schedule allows.

“There’s no schedule set, but he is as committed to the women as he is to the men, and he emotionally invested in the outcomes of the teams that he oversees. He is that sort of owner/fan that… for me, that’s what you want from every owner, somebody that’s as emotionally invested as you are as a fan,” said Predmore. “So I expect him out here – again it’s a long ways to travel so I don’t think he’s making every home match, but I expect we’ll see him from time to time out here and we’d love to have him as often as he wants to come out.”

Tacoma soccer stadium project

Finally, Predmore talked in more detail about OL Groupe’s potential involvement in the Tacoma soccer stadium project, clarifying some details that we received from Sounders General Counsel Maya Mendoza at the Reign FC/OL Groupe press conference last month. Most notably, OL Groupe is not yet formally involved in the project, but they and the Reign have offered their expertise to the Sounders and Rainiers as they progress through the development phase.

“The lead on this project is the Sounders and Rainiers,” said Predmore. “What we made clear to both of them, as Maya alluded to at the press conference, is that OL has a ton of experience, having built their football stadium and they’re building an arena adjacent to the stadium right now, so this is an area where they’ve got a ton of expertise and they are a resource available to anybody involved in the project at any time if they want to engage OL. As the project progresses, I think that right now it’s at a stage where we are very deferential to Maya and the Sounders and Aaron [Artman] and the Rainiers, and they are moving this through a process that I think they’ve been very thoughtful about, and we don’t have any desire to interject ourselves into that at this point. They know what our ambitions are around utilizing the stadium; I think there’s a general sense of where we would land on that, but at this stage of the process we’re on standby and waiting for them to call on us if they need us for anything.”