UPDATE: After this story was originally published, Wrexham Football Club — which Ryan Reynolds and actor Rob McElhenney bought in 2021 — qualified for the fourth tier of the English football league system.
The business of Ryan Reynolds is booming. He bought into Montreal payment technology company Nuvei this week. He recently sold Mint Mobile for $1.7 billion. He offloaded his gin company for another $825 million.
But the jewel in Reynolds’ business crown may be a floundering Welsh soccer club he bought with fellow actor Rob McElhenney in 2021 for $3 million.
For years, Wrexham Football Club has been speaking in the National League, the fifth tier of the English football league system.
The actors poured in money for new stands and better players. Documents filed this week showed the team lost nearly $5 million in the last 12 months alone.
But now, the club is poised to finally earn a promotion to the next level.
With a win this weekend, Wrexham will climb out of the lowly National League and into the English League, one step closer to the vaunted Premier League.
“It’s a big deal,” said Canadian soccer legend Craig Forrest. “I mean, especially when you look at where this club Wrexham has come from.”
The difference between the league Wrexham is trying to climb out of and the top of the football pyramid would be, Forrest puts it, like the difference between “the NHL and a pickup hockey league in the UK”
Already, Reynolds has helped build the club with the same enthusiasm and self-deprecating charm that has brands across industries eager to join his team.
A nice guy who cares
Forrest, who is now co-host of the podcast Footy Prime, played for the Canadian men’s national team and spent years in the Premier League, even playing against Wrexham once before the club fell on hard times.
He’s impressed with the business argument of Wrexham’s new owners. Welcome to Wrexham was a hit, distributed in Canada by Disney+. It grew the club’s audience absolutely. Before the actors bought the club, Wrexham’s main sponsor was a local trailer company. Reynolds and McElhenney replaced that with a branding deal with TikTok.
Their social media accounts, followed by millions around the world, helped spread the word.
“It’s a bit of a case study in terms of what we’ve been seeing happening in global sport over the last, you know, four or five years,” says Cheri Bradish, the director of the Future of Sport Lab and chair of marketing management at Toronto Metropolitan University.
She says Reynolds has carved out an image of himself as someone who genuinely cares about the brands he associates with.
That worked in Wrexham. It worked with his gin company Aviation and it worked with Mint Mobile as well.
So, she says, it’s no wonder that just about every conversation involving the sale of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators includes the name Ryan Reynolds.
“I think what he represents, in particular in Canada, is the personification of what we also see really attractive to the general sports marketplace, which is kind of feel good brands and feel good messaging,” he told CBC News.
In a recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonReynolds talked about the importance of storytelling in lifting Wrexham up, and confirmed he was interested in buying the Senators.
“I am trying to do that,” he said. “It’s very expensive. I need a partner with really deep pockets.”
WATCH | Reynolds is looking for a financial backer for the Senators purchase:
Connecting with the audience
Buying a sports franchise does require immensely deep pockets, usually in the form of pension plans or venture capital firms.
But that need cuts both ways.
The deep pockets need someone like Reynolds to rally the community with genuine enthusiasm and be the face of an ownership group. And slowly, Reynolds has built himself into something of a business juggernaut.
A recent Bloomberg piece compared Reynolds’s ventures to other celebrity-owned brands run by the likes of George Clooney, Kim Kardashian and Jay-Z.
None of that guarantees success. Wrexham fell short of promotion last year. The Mint Mobile sale may still be challenged by regulators and no investment is ever a sure bet.
But Reynolds has carved out a unique role and traveled a unique path to get here. From charming actor, to Marvel superhero to investment mogul, he’s tapped into the same thing.
At its core, celebrity entrepreneurship ties back to the star’s connection with their audience, their ability to tell a story and keep people engaged.
For evidence of that, look no further than how he spoke after a recent Wrexham thriller on home field in Wales.
“I don’t think I have a heart any more. I think I used up all the beats I have left,” he told BT News after the match. “That was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
And it’s why the actor’s biggest roles are just as likely to come in the boardroom as they are on a movie set.