On Friday, Michele Kang announced that she had acquired London City Lionesses FC, an independent club competing in the FA Women’s Championship. The English club is another “fundamental element” in its vision to develop its global multi-club organization, following its agreement earlier this year to take over OL Féminin and become owners 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. Athleticism before Friday’s announcement. “England is certainly one of them. I was looking for an opportunity to land, and with 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 separate her women’s team from the club structure, Kang is immediately able to launch into the second tier of women’s football in England, with one eye on the WSL.
“Obviously our goal is to get promoted,” Kang said with a smile.
This independent structure only came about 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. Culligan had already established herself independently in youth football.
While a standalone women’s team model is the norm in the United States and other countries, this is not the case in England, where many teams are attached to prominent 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,” said Culligan. “That’s how the London City Lionesses were born, and we went from there. The UK’s only truly independent professional women’s football club, if we’re talking about a professional game.
The Lionesses are currently ninth in the Championship table, although 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, 19 miles southeast of central London.
“We are in the middle of the season, we are going to do everything we can to finish the season as successfully as possible,” Kang said. “We’re going to figure out where we can bring surgical help here, resource-wise, without disrupting what they’re doing.”
As has always been his plan, the Lionesses will retain their brand and identity even with the acquisition – the same way Lyon and the Spirit operate. The addition of another team also means another point of justification for more centralized resources within the multi-club organization. “I can make the kind of large-scale investment that men’s teams can afford,” Kang said.
In May, Kang said Athleticism that its goal was to add three to five more teams by the end of 2023. Although the Lionesses are the only team it added this year, discussions are underway around the world about potential teams.
“We have ongoing conversations in Asia; it will definitely be the first part of next year,” Kang said. “We’re going to try to pick up where we left off.” She is still targeting other European countries, South America as well as Mexico, which she noted on Friday. Kang also said they have already initiated conversations in Africa.
In London City’s case, Kang wants to balance closing out the 2023-2024 season with a long-term strategy of not just promotion, but becoming a top team in the WSL and then winning it. The timing is promising from a commercial perspective, with the Premier Leagues moving to an independent structure outside the Football Association and under the management of NewCo in November. The Lionesses must first achieve promotion to achieve this reward, but Kang has shown in the past that she is prepared to invest for such a result.
“The NewCo model for the BWSL and BWC is a great example of how women’s sport will be promoted in England and around the world,” Kang said. “We need more investment focused solely on women’s football so that resources are not compromised.”
There’s also a massive example for Kang to consider regarding the potential of moving into a lower division: Wrexham. There has already been in-depth storytelling around a Championship club promoted to the WSL, with Liverpool producing a 90-minute documentary about their time in the WSL. But it’s hard to ignore the way “Welcome to Wrexham” has captured the attention and engagement of the lower divisions of English soccer here in the United States, and has also benefited the team’s new owner immensely.
When asked if that was on her mind, she couldn’t help but laugh before replying: “Absolutely.” That’s what we’re here for, and we’re absolutely going to write another chapter.
(Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)