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Sale of NWSL’s Spirit closes, making history for owner Michele Kang

Y. Michele Kang officially became the majority owner of the NWSL's Washington Spirit on Wednesday after a protracted battle for control of the team. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post)

Y. Michele Kang is now the majority owner of the Washington Spirit, the team announced Wednesday, having closed a $35 million deal that makes her the first woman of color to own a controlling stake in a National Women’s Soccer League team.

Kang, the founder of a health-care technology company, will head up an ownership group that ultimately will be made up mostly of women, the team said. The sale agreement was first announced in February.

Kang’s purchase of the team from former majority owner Steve Baldwin marks the close of an extraordinary period of upheaval for the Spirit, which won the NWSL title last year. After former coach Richie Burke was fired in the wake of allegations of verbal and emotional abuse, Spirit players and fan groups rallied around Kang, then a minority owner, and called on Baldwin to sell the team to her.

Baldwin presided over a revitalization of sorts for the Spirit, securing a new playing field and bringing in an influx of young talent. But current and former employees of the Spirit told The Washington Post that the team operated as an “old boys’ club,” and a flood of top female employees left the team midseason.

Baldwin agreed to sell the Spirit last year but fought Kang’s offer for months. He instead attempted to sell the team to Todd Boehly, a Los Angeles billionaire who is a part-owner of MLB’s Dodgers and the WNBA’s Sparks, for $10 million less than Kang offered. But the sale fell through after Kang convinced many of the Spirit’s investors to become shareholders and sell their stakes to her.

Rory Dames was accused of misconduct decades ago. He coached his way to power anyway.

Some NWSL owners and executives backed Boehly’s bid over Kang’s, people with knowledge of the sale said. On Wednesday, Marla Messing, the NWSL’s interim CEO, said in a news release that the league was “thrilled that the sale of the Washington Spirit to Michele Kang has closed.”

In the release, Kang promised to invest in a permanent training facility for the team, which was, for a time, forced to train at a high school field in the midst of its championship push. The Spirit also lacks a corporate sponsor for its jersey.

The Spirit will host the North Carolina Courage at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Audi Field as part of the Challenge Cup, the NWSL’s preseason tournament. Kang is expected to attend.

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