Are Wrexham destroying preconceptions about American owners?

02.02.2024 12:11:31 Adam England
Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney on the Wrexham AFC bus parade
  •  It’s almost three years since Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took over Wrexham AFC
  •  Since then, they’ve gone from average placing in the National League to the automatic promotion spots in League Two
  •  They’re probably among the best American owners in the England game

 

On February 9, it’ll be three years since Wrexham AFC’s takeover by North American actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, and what a ride it’s been.

The season after they took over, the club finished second in the National League, and a season later went one better to win the National League and reach League Two. 

This term, they’re sitting pretty near the top of League Two, and it looks as though they could make it successive promotions and head to League One. Stockport County are top of the league and are five points clear, but Wrexham in second have got a game in hand. Just beyond Wrexham there’s the chasing pack of Mansfield Town, Barrow, Crewe Alexandra, and Milton Keynes Dons. But Wrexham have at least game in hand on all four, and with three automatic promotion places and a play-off place, they’ll surely fancy their chances.

 

The best American owners?

There was lots of media fanfare when Reynolds and McElhenney took over the club in February 2021, and for good reason. After all, it’s not every day that Hollywood royalty rock up a football club in England’s fifth tier. Are they changing attitudes around American owners in English football?

American owners don’t exactly have the best record in the UK. Since Todd Boehly took over at Chelsea in 2022, the club’s fortunes have been mixed, with much made of their high transfer spending. Leeds Uniteds American owners have proved divisive too, while Swansea City are a long way from their Premier League glory days of the 2010s. 

Then there are the Glazers at Manchester United and Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool, both of which have proved divisive among supporters, particularly the former. There are lots of American owners up and down the English football pyramid now, with varying degrees of success and popularity, but you’d be forgiven for feeling slightly dubious when Wrexham got taken over.

 

Maximising income and media attention

However, it’s difficult to pick fault too much. Reynolds and McElhenney are both multi-millionaires, and they’ve been able to put money into the club at a level which is impressive for the lower leagues. For probably the first time, the club has received sustained global interest, and so many new fans. Look at the Disney+ series Welcome to Wrexham for instance, fans in the US and around the world have been buying Wrexham merchandise as a result, with sales increasing after each episode gets released. 

Reynolds and McElhenney want to maximise the club’s reach, and have been exploring various ways of doing so. They discussed the possibility of streaming Wrexham games domestically and internationally with the National League. Ultimately it was something that the league didn’t agree to, but the idea was that international fans would be able to watch for free to attract them to the league, with domestic fans paying and all profits going to the league. 

 

Sensibly transforming the team 

Since June 2022, Wrexham have owned their stadium, the Racecourse Ground, after they bought it from Wrexham University, and that January the club bought striker Ollie Palmer from AFC Wimbledon for £300,000, a club-record fee. Fellow forward Paul Mullin, who moved on a free from Cambridge United in 2021, has been shown to be an outstanding signing too, scoring 64 goals in 84 National League games. Meanwhile, he’s averaged just over a goal every other game in League Two this term.

While Wrexham have signed a number of players with Championship and even Premier League experience, and there have been some decent-sized fees, it doesn’t feel as though they’ve spent over the odds or bought players who won’t want to be there. Unlike, for example, Notts County in 2009/10 or Queens Park Rangers in 2012/13, their strategy feels much more carefully considered. Seasoned internationals like Steven Fletcher and James McClean alongside players in their twenties with Football League experience like Luke Bolton, Will Boyle and George Evans have all arrived this term, and it seems to be working. 

Installing Phil Parkinson as manager was a great move too. Rather than going for a huge name, they brought in an experienced manager with plenty of Football League pedigree. Let’s not forget that he took Bradford City to the League Cup final in 2013 when they were in League Two too. 

Arguably, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Reynolds and McElhenney are among the best owners in English football altogether, American or otherwise. In an age when fans up and down the country seem to be protesting against their teams’ owners (something this Birmingham City supporter is all too familiar with, though we now have a pretty good American owner in our own right now in Tom Wagner.) 

Perhaps Wrexham’s rise through the leagues will slow down. After all, the higher you get, the more difficult it is to compete. And, even if Wrexham had billionaire owners, they’d still have to abide by Financial Fair Play rules.  But, there’s no reason why they couldn’t reach the second tier for the first time since 2003/04. Not even the most optimistic supporter would be expecting them to end up in the Champions League or anything like that, but they’ve got reason to enjoy the ride for the time being.


 

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