The contentious dispute over the sale of the Washington Spirit women’s soccer team grew even more heated Wednesday, as the NWSL team’s controlling owner, Steve Baldwin, characterized co-owner Y. Michele Kang’s attempts to purchase the team as “a coup attempt” in a letter to investors viewed by Sportico.
An attorney for Kang fired back, calling allegations in Baldwin’s letter “false and inappropriate” and saying Kang intends to press ahead with the purchase of the team.
Baldwin’s letter described Kang’s moves to gain control of the club as “an endless stream of lies, a coup attempt, organizational disruption and secret meetings, and a PR campaign to damage my reputation and hurt my daughters.”
Beth Wilkinson, a D.C.-based attorney representing Kang and certain Spirit investors, said over email: “We are disappointed to learn that Mr. Baldwin continues to repeat these false and inappropriate allegations. With the best interests of the team in mind and the vote by the NWSL Board of Governors last weekend, we are ready to move forward and focus on the next, exciting chapter for the Washington Spirit and women’s professional soccer.”
The letter from Baldwin comes just days after the NWSL approved a series of Kang’s maneuvers, ostensibly paving the way for her to purchase the franchise at a league-record valuation of $35 million.
Baldwin released a statement to Sportico Wednesday evening expounding on his rationale for the letter. “As you know, I have kept silent for months on the circumstances with the club,” Baldwin said. “Last weekend, when the league reverted the ultimate decision about the future of the Spirit to our full ownership and investor group, it was understood we would be duty bound to share relevant facts about Michele Kang with our investors so they could make an informed decision.”
Representatives for the league and team declined to comment. Co-owner Bill Lynch didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The letter is the latest development in the ongoing saga surrounding the D.C.-based club, which has dragged on since October when Baldwin announced plans to sell. Spirit head coach Richie Burke, whom Baldwin hired after taking over the team in 2019, was among the people implicated in a league-wide abuse scandal. The NWSL investigated and told the team’s trio of owners—Baldwin, Kang and Lynch—that it wanted them all to sell in the aftermath.
Much of the complicated sale process has been defined by infighting between Baldwin and Kang. In the letter, sent to the team’s investor group, which also includes Lynch (the team’s former majority owner) and roughly 40 limited partners who joined the club last February—including Chelsea Clinton, Jenna Bush Hager, Dominique Dawes, Briana Scurry and former Sen. Tom Daschle—Baldwin uses the word “lies” six times to describe statements made by Kang throughout the process.
Baldwin’s letter accuses Kang of violations of “contractual and corporate policies” that cost the team more than $1.5 million last year (he wasn’t more specific). The letter also criticizes Kang’s relationship with the club’s players (who published an open letter on social media in early October urging Baldwin to sell to Kang) and their families. Baldwin further references “secret meetings” with staff members, including a conversation prior to last season in which Baldwin says Kang promised Burke additional compensation if he helped her oust Baldwin (Baldwin says he has “a declaration” from Burke that details the meeting).
Much of the letter hinges on personal slights—and Baldwin admits as much at one point.
Kang, founder and CEO of healthcare tech firm Cognosante, made it clear from the start of the process that she wanted to purchase the team herself. When it became public that Baldwin was in exclusive negotiations to sell the team to a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers and Sparks co-owner Todd Boehly for $25 million, Kang upped her offer to $35 million. The team’s debt holders responded with a threat of legal action against Baldwin if he did not accept the higher offer.
As Baldwin and Boehly reportedly continued to near a deal, Kang convinced a number of the team’s debt holders to convert their notes to equity and to vote alongside her. She also made a deal to acquire and convert some of those shares herself to improve her voting position. The NWSL board approved both moves earlier this month, making Kang, who still has less than half of the total shares, the team’s largest equity holder.
Baldwin flatly disputed in his letter that Kang now has control of the club as a result of the league’s decision, also denying that the Boehly-led group is out (which is consistent with Sportico’s reporting). Baldwin also accuses Kang of misrepresenting his management of the club’s finances.
“I readily admit that there are elements of this that are personal,” Baldwin wrote. “I have made every attempt to take the high road throughout this ordeal. Other than now highlighting a very, very small set of facts of what Bill and I dealt with from our ‘business partner’, I haven’t pestered you, I haven’t waged a public campaign, I haven’t spoken to the media, and I haven’t leaked any of the interactions of this group (or anything else). The time has come where I can no longer remain silent.”
(This article has been updated with statements from Steve Baldwin and Beth Wilkinson, an attorney representing Michele Kang.)