Alex Ovechkin’s Touted NWSL D.C. Buy In, Payout Never Came to Be

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On May 10, 2021, Steve Baldwin, then the owner of the Washington Spirit, appeared at a press conference to discuss the NWSL club’s newest investor: Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. As the Spirit celebrated the news on social media and in the press, Baldwin called it “a really exciting day for the Washington Spirit and the NWSL” and enthusiastically welcomed Ovechkin to the team’s investor group.

Appearing via video connection, Ovechkin detailed his life-long support of women’s sports thanks to his mom, a two-time Olympic basketball player for Russia, and spoke about how excited he was to support female athletes through this investment—even joking that he’d like to come to a practice to “show my skill,” as he described his passion for soccer.

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Ovechkin, however, never actually invested in the team, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. The NHL playoffs started days after the announcement, and later that summer the Spirit became tangled in an ugly abuse scandal that spawned a public fight over ownership of the franchise.

That dispute ended in February when minority owner Michele Kang struck a deal to buy the team for a record $35 million, and in spite of Baldwin’s claims. Ovechkin had an agreement in place at a roughly $13 million valuation, two of the people said, so the NHL star missed out on a potentially lucrative—and fast—return.

Despite the verbal agreement, the paperwork was never finalized in the weeks or months that followed. The Washington Spirit and Kang declined to comment. Ovechkin’s agent, David Abrutyn, also declined to comment. Baldwin did not respond to Sportico’s inquiries. But once again, D.C. isn’t hurting for cocktail party fodder.

The three-time NHL MVP and his wife, Nastya Ovechkina, were part of an all-star cast of investors in the Spirit in 2021. They were to join a group of more than 40 new investors with ties to the District who were brought on earlier that year by Baldwin. The mass of big names announced in February included former first daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager, Olympians Dominique Dawes and Briana Scurry, as well as former senator Tom Daschle. Most, if not all, of those newcomers were buying Spirit debt in the form of convertible notes, as opposed to more traditional pieces of equity.

Ovechkin and his wife headlined a second wave of 13 names announced that May as additions to Washington’s cap table.

Kyle Lierman, the CEO of Civic Nation and a former Obama White House staffer, was among the 2021 investors. During the press conference introducing Ovechkin as an investor, Baldwin said Lierman had introduced him to Abrutyn, which is how the NHL star eventually got involved. (Multiple attempts to reach Lierman through his office were unsuccessful.)

The press conference happened just as the Capitals were set to face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs. At the time, the Washington Post reported Ovechkin was in “the top half of the new investors,” in terms of his financial commitment to the club—but the sources said the Capitals captain never wrote the check to complete his buy-in.

The team at the time was controlled by a trio of owners—Baldwin, Kang and Bill Lynch—with Baldwin serving as managing partner. Ovechkin still hadn’t made the investment by late September (the only one of the 40-plus investors who never actually invested, according to two of the people) when the Spirit became the public centerpiece of an abuse scandal that rocked the entire league and had the team looking for new ownership after Spirit head coach Richie Burke was implicated.

Burke’s eventual firing was accompanied by accusations that Baldwin created a toxic culture. After an investigation into the allegations, the NWSL communicated to all three Spirit owners that its preference was that they all sell, sparking a public battle between Baldwin and Kang over the future of the club. Though there was a $25 million bid from recently minted Chelsea FC owner Todd Boehly, the Spirit were ultimately sold for $35 million to Kang, the founder and CEO of healthcare tech firm Cognosante, who had acquired her minority stake in 2020.

Kang’s purchase was the most ever paid for controlling ownership of an existing NWSL franchise, and nearly three times what the Spirit had been valued at in investments the spring prior, according to two people familiar with the terms. Kang bought out a number of the club’s limited partners after the contentious sale process, including some who were announced alongside Ovechkin.

Kang now has controlling interest of the franchise and the majority of the team’s equity. The ownership group includes several minority stakeholders, and Kang is in casual conversations with potential additional investors about minority stakes, some of whom were previously invested. It is unclear if Ovechkin is currently or will be among that group.

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