Sounders complete purchase of NWSL’s Seattle Reign

Now both of Seattle’s pro soccer teams are under the umbrella of one ownership group.

  • Meg Linehan, The Athletic
  • Wednesday, June 19, 2024 9:08am
  • SportsSounders

The sale of Seattle Reign FC is finally official. The Seattle Sounders FC ownership group and investment firm Carlyle partnered to take over the NWSL club. Adrian Hanauer, the majority owner of the Sounders, will serve as the Reign’s governor on the NWSL board, with Carlyle’s head of private credit, Alex Popov, named as the alternate governor. The Reign has also appointed a new chief business officer, with Sounders chief operating officer Maya Mendoza-Exstrom stepping into the new role on the NWSL side.

With two teams now under their management and in the same stadium, there is a chance for the Sounders organization to leverage its success on the MLS side to help cement the Reign’s presence in Seattle.

“There’s a commonality between what our founders and ownership have hoped for both of these clubs,” Mendoza-Exstrom told The Athletic. “The Sounders owners are local. They believe in both of these clubs as community assets, and what it means to put down deep roots in the community. None of us are bigger than the brand.”

The Reign has been in a holding pattern since the sale was first announced by previous owners OL Groupe in April 2023, before Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang took over Olympique Lyonnais Feminin. The French group acquired the Reign in 2019, then under the leadership of Jean-Michel Aulas, for approximately $3.5 million.

The sale price, along with that of most other clubs that have changed hands in the NWSL, has gone up considerably. OL Groupe confirmed the purchase price for 100% of the Reign’s shares by the Sounders and Carlyle was $58 million in March. At the same time, the Reign announced that the agreement between OL Groupe, the Sounders and Carlyle had been reached. Three months later, the deal was finally approved by the board of governors of both the NWSL and MLS.

The Reign have had a rough start to the 2024 season, currently in 13th place and managing only two wins so far, despite last year’s run to the championship against eventual winners Gotham FC. The club signed head coach Laura Harvey to a contract extension through the 2025 season, and general manager Lesle Gallimore (who joined the Reign organization in May 2023) is still in her role.

The Reign lost multiple key players this past offseason: Megan Rapinoe retired and Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett headed to Gotham as free agents. With new ownership in place, the promise of greater stability and long-term planning could help right the ship on the talent recruitment front.

Mendoza-Exstrom, who will lead the club’s business side, has been a fan of the team since the first NWSL season. “It means something different to put the shirt on, to have that badge over your heart and stewardship of something that you love. I don’t take that lightly. It’s an honor,” she said.

As to the immediate question of what comes next, she couldn’t help but joke, “See, we had a master plan in January, and we drew it up to have this thing closed in the busiest time of year for both clubs, right?” The Sounders just celebrated 50 years of their club, but on Friday, Hanauer addressed the Reign players to share the news that the deal had closed ahead of their Cascadia clash against the Thorns. The Sounders front office has been working with the Reign’s front office to try to get up to speed, knowing the transition would fall at a tough time for everyone, and ensuring the Reign know they have access to greater resources if needed.

The larger work can begin once they all get through the next few weeks of nonstop matches. “It’s a chance to get in a room with folks and start planning. We’ve got to set some ambitious business goals for ourselves; that’s what this club deserves. And we’ve got to set a road map. Lesle’s got her work to do on the team side, to do that road mapping for how this roster is going to be constructed going forward,” Mendoza-Exstrom said.

The Reign moving to the same organization as the Sounders could also be considered a reversal of general NWSL trends, where many independent teams like the KC Current, Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC are leading on the business side. At the start of the year, the Portland Thorns were sold by existing ownership Peregrine Sports, LLC (who also owns the Portland Timbers) to RAJ Sports, led by Lisa Bhathal Merage for $63 million.

Until this month, the Reign held the single match NWSL attendance record, with 34,130 in attendance at Lumen Field for Megan Rapinoe’s final 2023 regular season game. So far this year through five home games, the club is averaging 7,415 for attendance and has yet to crack five figures. In 2023, thanks in part to the record-setting send-off for Rapinoe, the Reign had an average attendance of 13,160.

The team has been training at Starfire (their original stadium) since the start of the 2023 season, which was also home to the Sounders. The MLS club moved to their new training facility and headquarters this year, located in Renton, which also is home to the team’s academy and the Tacoma Defiance (competing in MLS Next Pro). With both clubs now under the same leadership, that could be an easy transition to bring the Reign into the higher-level training facility.

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