On Friday, Michele Kang announced that has acquired London City Lionesses FC, an independent club competing in the FA Women’s Championship. The English club is another “building block” in its vision to grow its multi-club global organisation, following its deal earlier this year to take over OL Feminine and ownership of the Washington Spirit.
“As you can imagine, if you’re trying to build a preeminent women’s soccer organization, you have to be where the center of gravity is,” Kang said. The Athletic ahead of Friday’s announcement. “England is definitely one of them. “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to land, and with the London City Lionesses being the only independent team, it was a no-brainer.”
Instead of having to convince a men’s club to allow Kang to separate her women’s team from the club structure, Kang can immediately jump to the second tier of women’s football in England, with her sights set on the WSL.
“Clearly, our goal is to get a promotion,” Kang said with a smile.
That independent structure only emerged because LCL founder Diane Culligan stepped in to help Millwall FC a few years ago as they struggled to finish the season on the women’s side of operations. Culligan had already established himself independently in youth football.
While an independent women’s team model is the norm in the United States and other countries, that is not the case in England, where many teams are owned by top-tier men’s clubs.
“I think it’s fair to say that my ideas and the people who were running the club at the time were not compatible, and that’s when we decided to part ways,” Culligan said. “From there London City Lionesses was born, and from there we have started. The only truly independent professional women’s football club in the UK, if we’re talking about a professional game.”
Las Leonas currently occupy ninth place in the championship standings, although in the previous two seasons they finished second and third. Their head coach is Carolina Morace and home games are played at Princes Park in Dartford, 18 miles south-east of central London.
“We are halfway through the season, we are going to do everything we can to complete the season as successfully as possible,” Kang said. “We’re going to figure out where we can surgically add some help here, in terms of resources, without disrupting what they’re doing.”
As has always been their plan, the Lionesses will retain their brand and identity even with the acquisition, similar to how Lyon and Spirit operate. Adding another team also means another point of justification for greater centralized resources across the multi-club organization. “I can make the kind of investment at scale that men’s teams can afford,” Kang said.
In May, Kang said The Athletic that their goal was to add three to five additional teams by the end of 2023. While the Lionesses are the only team they added this year, conversations are taking place around the world about potential teams.
“We have some conversations in Asia; it will definitely be the first part of next year,” Kang said. “We’ll try to pick up where we left off.” He is still targeting other European countries, South America and Mexico, something he noted on Friday. Kang also said they have already started talks in Africa.
In the case of London City, Kang wants to balance the close of the 2023-2024 season with a long-term strategy, not only of promotion, but of becoming a top team in the WSL and then winning it. The timing is promising from a business perspective, with the main divisions set to move to an independent structure outside the Football Association and under NewCo in November. The Lionesses have to get promoted to get this reward first, but Kang has shown in the past that she is willing to invest to achieve that result.
“The NewCo model for the BWSL and BWC is a great example of how women’s sports will be improved in England and around the world,” Kang said. “We need more investments focused solely on women’s football so that resources are not compromised.”
There is also a great example for Kang to consider regarding the potential of entering a lower division: Wrexham. There has already been in-depth stories about a Championship club promoted to the WSL, with Liverpool as the producer. a 90 minute documentary about his move to the WSL. But it’s hard to ignore the way “Welcome to Wrexham” has brought attention and engagement to the lower divisions of English soccer here in the US, and has also greatly benefited the team’s new owners.
When asked if that was what he thought, he couldn’t help but laugh before answering: “Of course. “That’s what we’re here for and we’re definitely going to write another chapter.”
(Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)