You’ve probably never heard of Wrexham Football Club, but you’re about to. Despite languishing towards the bottom of the English soccer system, the small Welsh club has just been bought by actors Ryan Reynolds and Robert McElhenney.
To all but the most ardent of Welsh soccer fans, the takeover came as a complete surprise. Wrexham Football Club is a million miles away from famous Premiere League clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool. The town itself is the largest in north Wales, but with just sixty-five thousand residents it’s small, nothing like the big English cities to the east. Fan-owned since 2011, the team plays in the fifth division of the English football league system, and prior to the deal it was probably best known for beating European Cup Winners, Porto, in 1984. In fact, just nine years ago the Football Conference threatened the club with ejection from the league for an outstanding bond. Somehow, fans raised over $150,000 in just one day and saved the club from oblivion. So, why on earth would two Hollywood stars want to buy a tiny, fan-owned soccer team with little money and not much recent success?
Over the past couple of decades, U.S. ownership of British soccer clubs has become more and more prominent. In 2003 the Glazer family bought Manchester United, in 2010 the Fenway Sports Group – owners of the Boston Red Sox – bought Liverpool FC, and in 2011 LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke became Arsenal’s majority owner. In 2020, eight Premiere League teams and five English Football League teams are owned, or part-owned, by Americans. Most of these purchases seem to be driven by a perception that the British sports’ market is less saturated than the U.S. market, not as well-developed, and cheaper for investors. Indeed, the potential for growth – especially in commercial revenues – is large. Soccer’s international reach makes teams like Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur global brands, and few domestic American teams can compete. Between 2010 and 2014, the Premiere League saw a 57% increase in their total commercial revenue, overtaking the NFL.
Reynolds and McElhenny see similar potential for growth at Wrexham Football Club. No one knows exactly why the American-Canadian duo chose Wrexham, but having promised to invest at least £2m into the club and turn it into a “global force,” Reynolds and McElhenny certainly seem to think it’s a club worth the risk. Being fan-owned, Wrexham required no money to take control, leaving more for capital investment. But the club also has several unique selling points that could result in significant commercial success with millennials across the globe. Wrexham is the third oldest soccer club in the world, and the club’s stadium – The Racecourse Ground – is the oldest stadium in the world that still hosts international matches. The fans have an impressive history of bailing out the club with their own personal savings, and recently the club trended on Twitter after videos showed supporters travelling across the border to Manchester to face off against Black Lives Matter counter-protestors. Speculation already abounds about whether a multi-part Netflix documentary series on the takeover might be in the works, a deal that would transform the club’s finances.
Whether this will be a match made in heaven, or just one big mistake remains to be seen. American takeovers of British teams have generally proved unpopular with fans because supporters usually have no say in these deals, and most have failed to bring much success to their respective teams. Wrexham Supporter’s Trust, however, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Reynolds and McElhenney’s bid, with 98.6% backing the takeover. Although some fans expressed concerns that this may be a media stunt, the vast majority were impressed with the pair’s knowledge, sincerity, plans for growth, and their pledge never to relocate, rename, or rebrand the club. And things are already looking up for Wrexham Football Club. Since the takeover was made public the club has hit the headlines around the world, and orders for merchandise have started flooding in.
After years of pinching pennies and raiding personal savings accounts, Wrexham supporters now back a team with one of the largest budgets in their league. Promotion into the upper divisions may not happen overnight, but at the time of writing Reynolds and McElhenney can already boast a winning record. On Tuesday, Wrexham beat Hartlepool 1-0.