Ryan Reynolds, Rob McEllhenney Acquire English Soccer Club
Actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are acquiring a fifth-division English soccer club, and plan to use their own stardom — and a new documentary series — to promote the team globally. Variety’s sister site Sportico first reported the news.
The two celebrities have an agreement to take over Wrexham AFC, which is based in Wales and plays in the National League, four tiers below the English Premier League. They won’t pay anything up front for the club, which is currently owned by a supporter’s trust. They’ve promised instead to invest at least $2.64 million (2 million pounds) into the club’s infrastructure.
Perhaps more importantly, they have a plan to give the team a bigger platform, and hopefully grow its following. Reynolds himself has more Twitter followers than Premier League champions Liverpool FC. The two actors told Wrexham supporters last week in a webcast that they intend to create a documentary about the team, something along the lines of HBO’s NFL series “Hard Knocks,” or recent Amazon series about English soccer giants Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
“These are two very successful people who have done great things on-screen and some great things off-screen,” said Spencer Harris, the club’s director. “They’re really interested in taking something with real potential, which this club has, investing in it, molding it and watching it grow. That journey is their ultimate motivation, and part of what they want to do is document that journey as they go. But I think it’s more about that journey.”
It’s not unreasonable to think a documentary alone could finance the $2.64 million, and potentially add additional funds to the club’s coffers. Wrexham typically generates between $1.98 million and $4.22 million in annual revenue, Harris said. It’ll be on the low end for this pandemic-disrupted season, and the club is expecting losses of at least $395,000 which it will cover with cash reserves.
Reynolds, the star of the “Deadpool” franchise, is an investor in wireless provider Mint Mobile and recently sold most of his equity in Aviation American Gin as part of a $610 million deal. McElhenney, co-created, produces and stars in :It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which airs on FXX and was recently renewed for a 15th season.
The pair were connected to the team through their advisor, Inner Circle Sports. They’ll become the latest North Americans to invest in European soccer, deals that primarily revolve around the same thing: media.
Billionaire investors in the Premier League, like Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, see an opportunity in the league’s live TV rights. The recent rush into French soccer had similar inspiration. For Reynolds and McElhenney, the dollars are orders of magnitude smaller, but they’re also banking on growing demand for sports content, both from fans and from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
Wrexham plays in the 10,500-seat Racecourse Ground, which opened in 1807 and is the world’s oldest soccer stadium that still holds international matches. Supporters took the club from private ownership in 2011, and in three years they paid off $660,000 of debt, Harris said. One of just four Welsh teams in the English soccer structure, Wrexham rose to the second tier in 1980s but hasn’t been higher than the third division since the turn of the century.
The change in ownership required 75% approval from the voting members of the trust. Sunday’s vote returned more than 98% support, indicating limited concerns that the documentary could get in the way of the team’s on-field success.
“I’ve spoken at length with the people who will be doing that activity and I don’t see them getting in the way,” Harris said. “I think it’s going to be a really interesting story, not just about the football club and the local community, but also to give insight into a couple of guys from Hollywood who will go on this roller-coaster journey with the rest of us. I think people will find that compelling.”