In February of 2021, Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny shocked the world with their purchase of Wrexham’s soccer club. What did two American actors know about English football, and why did they want a stake in a dying, fifth-tier club? Two years later, their move appears more strategic and genuine than ever. Wrexham has since moved into the English Football League, its revitalized community is thriving, and there’s even a binge-worthy FX docuseries in the mix. McElhenny and Reynolds’ decisions exemplify how, when done right, team ownership can enhance a sports community and restore faith in a neglected club. The impact has undoubtedly had a ripple effect, leading to a recent surge in celebrity owners who hope to achieve similar results.
Part of McElhenny and Reynolds’ draw to Wrexham was the club’s ability to earn a “promotion,” which presented a much more dynamic structure than most American sports leagues. For example, Wrexham’s season in the National League is 44 games. Each team in the league earns three points for a win, one for a draw, and 0 for a loss. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins promotion into the higher-tier English Football League. As potential new owners, McElhenny and Reynolds identified this promotion as their primary goal.
Before McElhenney and Reynolds acquired ownership of the club, they went to great lengths to express this goal and to demonstrate how their commitment extended far beyond financial gains. Wrexham's club had been under fan ownership since 2011, which meant that their takeover required the approval of over 2,000 members of the Club Trust. During their presentation to the Trust, Reynolds emphasized their mission statement to transform Wrexham into a global powerhouse and to "become a part of the Wrexham story" rather than the other way around. Following the meeting, an overwhelming 98% of the members voted in favor of the sale, acknowledging the actors' deep respect for the club's history and their recognition of Wrexham AFC's significance as a pillar of the community.
Even with the takeover incomplete, McElhenny and Reynolds invested money into Wrexham. They contributed to Wrexham’s Transfer Fund to help strengthen the squad roster in the upcoming season. As a result of their efforts, the team was able to secure better players and was one step closer to being a competitive force in the league.
Once the takeover was finalized, Wrexham’s new owners continued taking steps to garner community support. American owners of British clubs have historically had an uphill battle in this arena. Consider the Glazer family's ownership of Manchester United: while their wealth and business acumen were highly regarded, their limited understanding of the British football community left fans feeling disdainful. If American outsiders Reynolds and McElhenny wanted to give the club comeback, they’d have to give the community one, too. With Wrexham’s nearby Queensway area ranked by the Welsh government as the third-most impoverished neighborhood in the country, the two had their work cut out for them.
The new owners recognized the club as a lifeblood for the town both financially and emotionally. McElhenny made his reverence clear, explaining that Wrexham players are “playing for their lives . . . You can see the passion. They’re playing with every last drop of their blood.” Both actors approached team ownership by balancing the town of Wrexham’s perspective and their own business expertise. They rallied around local businesses like Turf Pub, bought homes in the area to remain hands-on, and polled the community to supplement where their knowledge lacked and maintain integrity with the fans. Hiring top-tier head coach Phil Parkinson and high-ranking MLS soccer exec Fleur Robinson, they enlisted industry giants to make critical decisions. Wrexham’s stadium, Racehorse Grounds, underwent major renovations and grounds replacement through millions in investment money, elevating the overall onsite experience. In addition, they increased the budget for player salaries to bring on top players like striker Paul Mullin. In response, season ticket sales tripled and average game attendance rose to almost 10,000. In 2023– just two years into new ownership– the team achieved promotion to the English Football League.
Welcome to Wrexham
Along the way, Reynolds and McElhenny documented their endeavor in a wildly successful FX series, Welcome to Wrexham. Instead of focusing solely on their journey as team owners, the actors used the show as an opportunity to humanize the town and tell its stories. Considering Wrexham’s football club is rich with a 150-year-old history and deeply engrained in the town’s culture, its impact on the community is overwhelming. In the series, a citizen’s voice-over encapsulates the draw of Wrexham AFC, explaining: “Wrexham is a town that battles against odds constantly. It really is a place where people deserve a little bit more than they’ve got out of life. But the thing we love more than anything is the football club.”
From celebratory shots at the local pub to highlights of players’ stories, the show captures the essence of Wrexham football’s unifying power. Thanks to the documentary, audiences worldwide fell in love with Wrexham’s comeback story and the unlikely passion and conviction of two American outsiders. Tourism has increased alongside the show’s exposure as U.S. fans flock to the small town to experience the excitement in person.
The Ripple Effect
As a result of Reynolds and McElhenny’s ownership, other celebrities have followed suit with teams of their own. Joining the National Women’s Soccer League, Natalie Portman’s female-led Angel City Football Club debuted in Los Angeles just last year. The team is backed by a roster of sports figures including Billie Jean King, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, and Serena Williams. Just as Reynolds and McElhenny have done at Wrexham, Portman’s group made player pay and authenticity a priority. They recently signed Christen Press with a $700K 3-year contract, making her the highest-paid player in the league. The group hopes to use the team as a way to elevate women’s sports, support pay equity, and invest in the greater Los Angeles community.
As Wrexham lives out its promotion dreams next season, it will be interesting to see McElhenny and Reynolds’ continued oversight and the growth that ensues. New and veteran team owners alike should take note of how these two unlikely figures have transformed Wrexham. Their enthusiasm and devotion is palpable, and it’s secured a win for both the club and its surrounding community.