- Olympique Lyonnais executive Vincent Berthillot appointed COO of NWSL team
- Reign FC poised to incorporate OL name and logo to help synergize two brands
- French club will look to help NWSL gain further exposure with TV deals in Europe
The National Women’s Soccer League is entering a new era in 2020 following the takeover of Reign FC by OL Groupe, the parent company of French women’s soccer team Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, in a $3.51m (€3.15m) deal.
As part of the deal, OL Groupe will take an 89.5-per-cent stake in Reign FC, which is based in Tacoma, Washington. Bill Predmore, Reign FC’s former investor-operator, will hold 7.5 per cent of the share capital, while former National Basketball Association star Tony Parker will hold a three-per-cent stake. As such, OL Groupe has become the first international majority owner of an NWSL team.
Olympique Lyonnais is a minority owner of French basketball club LDLC ASVEL, which is owned by Parker, with LDLC also featuring as a sponsor of its men’s and women’s team shirts. Parker is also an OL international ambassador.
Jean-Michel Aulas, the OL Groupe owner and president, will serve as Reign FC chairman of the board of directors, where Parker will also have a seat. Predmore will become the club’s chief executive while OL executive Vincent Berthillot has been appointed the chief operating officer.
Reign Academy, which is owned and operated by Reign FC, will also become a part of the OL family. Teresa Predmore will remain as president of the Reign Academy youth programs.
Olympique Lyonnais Féminin – which also has a men’s team in Ligue 1 – is the most successful women’s soccer team in the world, with 13 consecutive domestic league titles and six Uefa Women’s Champions League titles, including the last four in a row. Megan Rapinoe, the Reign FC and United States Women’s National Team superstar, played for Olympique Lyonnais Féminin in the 2013-14 season.
SportBusiness spoke to Berthillot about why the OL Groupe took over Reign FC and what its plans are for the NWSL team and to develop its brand in the US market.
Q. When will you start working at Reign FC and what will your role be?
Berthillot: I should join Reign FC in March, it all depends on the timing to get a work visa to enter the US. As soon as I get the visa, I will be in Seattle to work with the Reign FC team. I will join Reign FC as the chief operating officer and I will work with Bill Predmore, who will remain the CEO of the club, on all business aspects. My role will be to push the business as much as we can with revenues, in terms of ticketing, sponsorship and merchandising. The second part of my role will be to establish the synergies that can be set up between Reign FC and OL Groupe in all the business areas, but also marketing and social media. I will be a link between Reign FC in Seattle and OL Groupe in Lyon.
Q. Under the new regime, what decisions about Reign FC will be taken in Tacoma and what decisions will be referred to HQ in Lyon?
B: In terms of governance, a board of directors will be put in place. [OL Groupe owner] Jean-Michel Aulas will have a seat on the board, together with three other people named by OL, the remaining seat will be for Tony Parker, who is a shareholder in the company. The role of this board will be to define the strategy of the club and to take the main decisions. But on a day-to-day basis the management of the club will be taken locally by Bill Predmore and myself. Our role will be to implement the decisions taken by the board.
Q. Going back a few steps, why exactly did OL Groupe take over Reign FC?
B: One of our strategies in the business model of OL Groupe is to work on the internationalization of our brand and we decided to use the expertise we have in women’s soccer to enter the US market by acquiring a team.
Q. Did OL look at acquiring other NWSL teams or other women’s teams internationally, or just Reign FC?
B: We didn’t look at other countries as our target and focus was to enter the US market. Our priority was to have a team in the NWSL. When we started to think about this, we considered acquiring other teams and also the expansion option. But we decided to go with the Reign FC acquisition for two main reasons. Firstly, the discussions with Bill Predmore went very fast. Secondly, the team was on a good level and it was very important for us to be competitive from the 2020 season. When we were looking at other teams or the expansion option, it would have been more difficult to be competitive from the first season [if we had taken this route].
Q. Will Reign FC adopt or incorporate the OL name, colors or logo at some point the future?
B: Yes, we are working on this. We want to adapt the OL name in some way and we want to adapt the logo of the club. The NWSL has to validate new names and new logos so we are working closely with them on this. We hope to announce the new logo and new name in the coming days.
Q. Do you anticipate some OL players will play for Reign FC and vice versa? Will coaches also look to work at both teams?
B: OL has a strong history with American players, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have both played for us, and we will continue to consider having US international players joining our team. We will also consider opportunities for OL players to play in NWSL and for Reign FC. This is something we could do in the future and perhaps for next year. Our ambition is to have the two best teams in the world. I don’t know if we will be able to do that but we will look to have the best team in Europe with OL and the best team in the US in Reign FC. In terms of coaching, the professional teams will work on their own sides but for sure there will be some interaction with the academies.
Q. Are friendly matches planned between Reign FC and Olympique Lyonnais Féminin?
B: The complexity is that the sports seasons are not aligned. But for sure we will study all the opportunities for the teams to meet and play friendly games either in France or the US. We will try to organize the first one this year if we can.
Q. In what ways will Reign FC help OL’s commercial partners expand their brand in the US and likewise for Reign FC in France?
B: On the OL side, we have already been dealing with US partners for a long time and we strongly believe the partnership with Reign FC will create a bridge between both teams and that will enable our major sponsors to communicate on the two major continents of [women’s] soccer, US and Europe. That is something we want to push and we think this will interest new commercial partners for US companies looking to enter the French market and vice versa for French companies looking to enter the US market. We are convinced that it will be an advantage for us to have a presence on both continents.
Q. Will OL merchandise be sold in Tacoma and Reign FC merchandise in Lyon?
B: At the moment, we hope to keep each brand in its own territory. Before we consider selling Reign FC products in France and OL products in the US, we want to first develop common content between the clubs on social media to develop the brands in each region. This is the first step before selling merchandise.
Q. What financial investments will OL Groupe now make to develop Reign FC and on what?
B: Our intention is to invest in Reign FC to achieve our ambition which is to win some titles in the US. We are in the process of getting more knowledge on the NWSL and how the club works and we need this knowledge to put in place a new and precise business plan. On the players and coaching side, we will for sure invest in the team in the first year but we have to respect the NWSL rules regarding a salary cap. We will have the capacity to invest but we won’t have the capacity to invest in more than is authorized by the league. We will look to improve the training facilities in Tacoma, this is one of my first missions, and regarding a stadium we are not part of plans to build a new facility in the area…but if the stakeholders ask us to participate, we will of course consider the opportunity to be part of this project.
Q. Why is [former NBA player] Tony Parker involved? How will he help?
B: Tony is really famous in France, the United States, and especially in Lyon. He also has a very good knowledge of the US sports market so he will be a counsel of all the sports measures of the club. We are very happy to have him on board, it is a tremendous asset to have him involved in this project.
Q. How important is Megan Rapinoe in your business plan due to her amazing reach and platform?
B: This is firstly a team project but Megan said that wants to get involved in Reign FC after her [playing] career so it will be important to have her involved. To have Megan and Tony Parker involved is really amazing for us.
Q. How do you think your presence will help the NWSL going forward?
B: We want to bring our vision and soccer culture into the league as we think we have some expertise in women’s soccer which could bring some value to the NWSL. But also we know that we will have to learn from the NWSL as it is quite different from what we know in Europe. We believe we can bring some value to the league and one of our goals is to propose greater media exposure for women’s US soccer in Europe.
For the moment, the exposure of the league outside the US is quite low and we hope that our investment will give some further exposure for the league in France and in Europe. It will also be an opportunity for other foreign investors to look at this league to try to acquire other teams or become expansion teams to give the league worldwide exposure.
Q. How can this move help the presence of the OL men’s team in the US?
B: For the moment, we are focusing on women’s soccer as a first step. We believe women’s soccer is the best way to develop our brand in the US. In our internationalization plan have a different strategy with men’s soccer, which is developing partnerships with academies; we have several in China and Brazil and Africa and so on.