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Michele Kang assumes majority ownership of Washington Spirit

(Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The Washington Spirit have finalized a new ownership structure, authorizing Y. Michele Kang to acquire the interests of fellow team owners Bill Lynch and Steve Baldwin. Kang will assume majority ownership of the team alongside a new, female-led ownership group, the Spirit announced in a statement Tuesday.

She will be the NWSL’s first non-white, female majority owner.

On Tuesday, Kang thanked Baldwin for his “leadership, vision and formidable drive in building the Spirit and the outstanding roster that won the 2021 NWSL Championship.”

She also recognized Lynch for his work with the Spirit.

“I personally appreciate, and want to publicly recognize Bill Lynch’s pivotal work as the founding owner of the Spirit bringing women’s professional soccer back to our nation’s capital,” Kang said. “I can’t wait to begin work with our talented, resilient players and staff.”

Baldwin said he is “incredibly proud” of what the Spirit have accomplished in the past few years.

“I am pleased that someone with Michele’s commitment to the Spirit will lead the team in its next chapter,” he continued. “I spoke with Michele this morning and told her that Bill and I decided to sell her the team. I sincerely wish her, our wonderful players, and our staff the best. My hope for 2022 is that the Spirit become the first ever DC premier league sports team to win back-to-back championships. Go Spirit.”

Kang and Baldwin have been in a heated custody battle of the team for months. The saga began when former head coach Richie Burke was fired amid allegations of verbal and emotional abuse. A subsequent NWSL investigation found that the Spirit front office was fostering a toxic work culture for its female employees.

Baldwin had reportedly offered to sell the team to Kang last April. That offer was later rescinded.

Last October, Baldwin said he would sell the team by the end of the year. He later entered into talks with a group led by Todd Boehly and Jennifer Mackesy, who reportedly offered $21 million to buy the club. Kang then offered a reported $35 million for majority ownership. Despite this, Baldwin pushed ahead with the offer from Boehly and Mackesy, a decision some of the club’s minority owners met with resistance.

In mid-January, Kang turned the tables on Baldwin, with The Athletic reporting that she had rallied other co-owners to her cause and acquired the number of votes needed to approve a sale of the club to herself. Following the reports, Boehly withdrew his bid. A few weeks later, the NWSL’s Board of Governors said in a statement that it approved of Kang’s potential ownership of the club.

In a last-ditch effort at the end of January, Baldwin sent out an email to Spirit investors in which he aired his grievances against Kang and admitted that the matter was “personal.”

Kang declined to comment, with her attorney saying in a statement that she and Kang “are ready to move forward and focus on the next, exciting chapter for the Washington Spirit and women’s professional soccer.”

The new ownership’s vision for the team, according to the press release, is “Premier, Professional and Proudly DC.” The locally-based group plans to make substantial new investments into the team’s staff, operations and infrastructure to achieve those goals.

NWSL preseason is currently underway, with the 2022 Challenge Cup set to begin March 16. The Spirit will open play against the Orlando Pride on Saturday, March 19.