On Friday, Michele Kang announced she has acquired London City Lionesses FC, an independent club competing in the FA Women’s Championship. The English club is another “foundational block” in her vision to grow her global multi-club organization, following her agreement 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 football organization, you have to be where the center of gravity is,” Kang told The Athletic ahead of Friday’s announcement. “England is definitely one of them. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to land, and London City Lionesses being the only independent team, it was a no-brainer.”
Rather than having to convince a men’s club to allow Kang to split their women’s team apart from the club structure, Kang’s immediately able to jump into the second level of women’s football in England, with an eye on the WSL.
“Clearly, our goal is to get promoted,” Kang said with a smile.
That independent structure only happened because LCL’s 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 herself in the youth game independently.
While a standalone women’s team model is the norm in the U.S. and other countries, that’s not the case in England, with many teams attached to top-tier men’s clubs.
“I think it’s fair to say that my ideas and the people that were running the club at the time were not compatible, and that’s when we decided to part ways,” Culligan said. “Hence London City Lionesses was born, and we’ve gone from there. The only truly independent women’s professional women’s football club in the UK, if we’re talking about a professional game.”
The Lionesses are currently ninth on the Championship standings, though in the previous two seasons they finished second and third. Their head coach is Carolina Morace and home matches are played at Princes Park in Dartford, 18 miles southeast of central London.
“It’s the middle of the season, we’re going to do everything we can to complete the season as successfully as possible,” Kang said. “We are 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 her plan, the Lionesses will retain their branding and identity even with the acquisition — similar to how Lyon and the Spirit operate. Adding another team also means another point of justification for greater centralized resources across the multi-club organization. “I can do the kind of investment at scale that men’s teams can afford to do,” Kang said.
In May, Kang told The Athletic that her goal was to add three to five additional teams by the end of 2023. While the Lionesses are the only team she’s added this year, conversations are ongoing across the world on prospective teams.
“We have some conversations going on in Asia; that’s certainly going to be the first part of next year,” Kang said. “We’ll try to pick up where we left off.” She’s still targeting other European countries, South America, as well as Mexico — which she noted on Friday. Kang also said that they have initiated conversations in Africa already.
In the case of London City, Kang wants to balance closing out the 2023-2024 season with a long-term strategy, not just of promotion, but becoming a top team in the WSL, and then winning it. The timing is promising from a business perspective, with the top divisions moving to an independent structure outside of the Football Association and under NewCo in November. The Lionesses have to earn promotion to earn this reward first, but Kang has shown in the past she’s willing to invest for such a result.
“The NewCo model for BWSL and BWC is a great example of how women’s sports will be uplifted in England and globally,” Kang said. “We need more investment focused solely on the female game so that the resources are uncompromised.”
There’s also one massive example for Kang to consider regarding the potential of coming into a lower division: Wrexham. There’s already been in-depth storytelling around a Championship club promoted to the WSL, with Liverpool producing a 90-minute documentary about their move to the WSL. But it’s hard to ignore the way “Welcome to Wrexham” has driven eyeballs and engagement to the lower divisions of English football here in the U.S., and also immensely benefited the team’s new ownership.
Asked if it was on her mind, she couldn’t help but laugh before answering, “Absolutely. That’s what we’re here for, and we’re absolutely going to write another chapter.”
(Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)