On Monday, December 19, John Textor’s Eagle Football group became the majority owner of OL Groupe, the organization that owns 89.5% of OL Reign shares. Textor, a U.S. businessman and Crystal Palace shareholder, has been in negotiations with OL Groupe president and former majority owner Jean-Michel Aulas for the last four months.
Part of the reason for the long negotiation was that the sale required the approval of the Premier League, which had requested the agreement of Palace’s shareholders.
Textor, who is the former head of FuboTV, also owns Botafogo in Brazil and RWD Molenbeek in Belgium. He is not the majority owner at Crystal Palace, as he currently has a 40% stake in the club. According to the announcement, Eagle Football now owns 77.49% of OL Groupe’s shares.
Earlier this year, two OL Groupe minority shareholders, Pathé and IDG Capital, confirmed they were starting to explore the possibility of selling their stakes. Pathé and IDG owned about 39% of OL Groupe’s share capital and just under half its voting rights. It was at this time Aulas began to seriously talk to new investors and take bids. According to Aulas, there were five to six groups who expressed interest — including a brief time when it appeared that Foster Gillett, son of former Liverpool owner George Gillett, was going to become controlling owner — but ultimately Textor’s offer rose to the top.
In addition to buying out Pathé and IDG’s shares, Eagle Football bought out Aulas’ shares via his company Holnest. Textor also added 86 million Euros in capital, which Aulas confirmed “will be devoted in part to recruitment to strengthen the teams.”
What does this mean for OL Reign?
While much of the announcement focused on the specifics around the transaction, no details were shared about the sale’s impact on OL Reign. OL Groupe and Textor have yet to provide direct statements related to this, but a few specific notes from the announcement indicate the sale should not have any short-term impact on OL Reign.
The most important thing OL Reign fans should know is that Aulas will remain as president of OL Groupe for at least the next three years. He will have independent decision-making authority and will get to keep his current leadership team. As part of the sale, Aulas and Eagle Football group agreed they will re-evaluate things after that three-year period.
“He [Aulas] will keep the operational management of Olympique Lyonnais for at least three years and will remain surrounded by his team,” Textor said in OL Groupe’s press release. “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.”
Both Aulas and Textor emphasized this in a press conference that was held in June when OL Groupe announced they had entered into exclusive negotiations with Textor. While Aulas said it wasn’t an absolute obligation of the deal, Textor was more explicit in his desire to be mostly hands-off with the day-to-day operations of OL Groupe.
”There will be no changes to the organization chart, that’s not the goal,” Textor said (note: these quotes are roughly translated from this French transcript from Le Figaro). “There will be a lot of autonomy. Jean-Michel Aulas is much more experienced than me in this environment. He is comfortable with this level of autonomy.”
Ride of the Valkyries reached out to OL Reign to confirm this, and the Reign referred back to OL Groupe’s press release confirming Aulas and his leadership team will remain for at least the next three years. OL Reign also noted the sale’s objective to strengthen the success of the men’s and women’s teams. Ride of the Valkyries has also independently confirmed with sources that OL Reign does not expect the sale to have an impact on their operations.
That may come as welcome news to many OL Reign fans. On social media, when news of the sale emerged in June, a now-deleted tweet from Textor began to circulate. In the tweet, Textor claimed that while “women deserve equal pay for equal performance,” the U.S. Women’s National Team “may not be the best example” because they once lost to a Dallas U-15 boys team in a practice scrimmage — a common talking point among people who have opposed the USWNT’s quest for equal pay. The tweet, which is being shared again with the sale confirmed, came a day after the U.S. won the 2019 World Cup.
He’s a Dallas U15-er so I have low expectations pic.twitter.com/pflWD8csK7— Lis Schendel (@lis_ashlee) June 20, 2022
Ride of the Valkyries reached out to OL Groupe for comment from the new majority owner. At the time of publication, he has not provided a response.
Regardless of this tweet, Textor should have extremely limited to no involvement in OL Reign. Aulas will remain in charge of OL Groupe, leaving Vincent Berthillot as OL Reign’s CEO and Sophie Sauvage as OL’s head of international women’s football and OL Reign’s representative on the NWSL board. Under OL Groupe’s ownership, the Reign have doubled their front-office staff, moved the team permanently to Lumen Field, and found a permanent training facility at Starfire Sports. While things could change in the future, it appears this progress will continue — even under new ownership.