Three years ago, no one outside of Wales had heard of Wrexham AFC, a club that competes in the fifth tier of English soccer. Now, since Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny bought the club in 2020 and revamped it—making a show, Welcome to Wrexham, along the way—the team’s profile is skyrocketing.
Last weekend, the Welsh squad drew Sheffield in an FA Cup fourth-round game that ESPN aired, with both teams scoring in the match’s final minutes. Sunday’s match was the most-followed FA match across ESPN’s website and digital platforms in the United States.
“It was so popular,” Reynolds tweeted after the match, “we decided in the 95th minute of the game to green-light the sequel,” in reference to the replay that will determine the future of his team in the FA Cup next Tuesday.
And on Friday, the team announced it would join the inaugural The Soccer Tournament (TST), an international 7×7, winner-take-all tournament in the United States this summer, boasting a prize of $1 million.
Wrexham is the ninth team to sign up for the 32-team tournament, joining former USMNT captain Clint Dempsey’s Team Dempsey, Liga MX’s American-owned Club Necaxa, and former USWNT player Heather O’Reilly’s team, U.S. Women, among others.
Jon Mugar, founder of TBT Enterprises, which is putting on The Soccer Tournament, told Sportico negotiations with bigger clubs are ongoing. Wrexham’s TST team will feature club legends, including personalities seen in Welcome to Wrexham, an FX production that streams on Hulu.
“There won’t be any other way of following Wrexham this offseason,” Shaun Harvey, an advisor to the board at Wrexham AFC, told Sportico. “So why not utilize this great opportunity to take Wrexham to the USA for the first time? It will keep us current in the U.S. If we succeed, $500,000 of the prize money will be used to enhance the club’s work in the local community.”
But Reynolds and McElhenny’s eyes are on the long-term prize. Reynolds’ plan, according to Harvey, has always been to get the team promoted to the Premier League. The team currently sits in first place in the National League (the fifth tier in English football), with potential promotion into League Two (the fourth tier) at the end of this season.
Founded in 1864, Wrexham is the oldest club in Welsh football and the third-oldest football club in the world. The club has won 23 Welsh Cups, the most of any team.
Reynolds and McElhenny bought the club in 2020 without paying anything up front, promising to invest 2 million pounds. They hired the best players in the league and brought in experts like Les Reed, a former FA executive. The new ownership and Welcome to Wrexham attracted new sponsors such as TikTok, Expedia, Vistaprint and Reynolds’ own Aviation American Gin.
“Robert and Ryan are clear in the role that they see they have; they see themselves as custodians of the club, not owners,” Harvey said. “Now, in corporate legal terms, they own the club because they’re the shareholders, but they see their role as the custodians. Wrexham is their club for now. But it will always belong to the community.”
Thanks to Welcome to Wrexham, the team has garnered a new following. The club saw a massive increase in its social media following and merchandise sales, and average attendance at the Racecourse Ground has doubled to close to 10,000—a figure higher than more than half the 72 clubs in the Football League. Five thousand more seats will be added to the stadium this summer to meet the demand.
“The club is now 30 times bigger than it was in terms of its profile, and the value continues to go up on a daily basis as the profile of the club increases,” Harvey said. “And in fairness, on the basis that Rob and Ryan have absolutely no intention at this moment in time of moving on, the value of the club is irrelevant. It only becomes relevant if, at some stage, they’re looking for an investment partner or sell the club, and we’re not there.”
(This article has been updated in the 10th paragraph to clarify the purchase terms for the Wrexham purchase and in the sixth to note that Welcome to Wrexham streams on Hulu.)