What do Wrexham AFC in Wales, Birmingham City in the midlands and Burnley, a small town in England all have in common? They’ve all enjoyed a recent influx of capital and interest from American businesses, investors and athletes.
After it was announced that Tom Brady, one of the NFL’s greatest ever players would be investing in Birmingham City in the Championship, fans were anticipating another celebrity face attaching themself to yet another English football club.
But just a few weeks following the announcement, ahead of the Club’s first home game of the 2023/24 season, fans were left starstruck, as the seven-time NFL Super Bowl Champion was downing pints in a local pub, singing songs and showing his unbridled support for Birmingham City Football Club.
It’s been a familiar sight in recent years; spotting Hollywood’s Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in Welsh pubs ahead of kick-off and seeing Michael B. Jordan in the stands at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium. But it begs the question: why are so many American businesses and celebrities investing in English football?
“There are a lot of people out there who like the idea of owning a sports team,” revealed to The Athletic. “English football represents a low-cost entry point. The history of it appeals. You can buy a 100-year-old club for less than the cost of a franchise in the US minor leagues.”
Another reason is that the English Football League enjoys – or suffers – promotion and relegation within the Football Pyramid. Cubs such as Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are at risk of falling down the leagues just as much as clubs such as Birmingham and Wrexham can get promoted to the Premier League – although I wouldn’t expect to see City fall off anytime soon.
Objectively, these smaller English football clubs, whilst they represent heritage, pedigree and tradition, are fixed in time. Of course, Burnley is further up the English football pyramid, securing promotion back into the Premier League thanks to a Vincent Kompany revolution, and therefore exposed to a larger fanbase.
Clubs such as Wrexham, Ipswitch Town and Birmingham City, however, have served the local community for over a century; fans refrain from making plans at the weekend because they have already pre-determined with the league’s schedule.
For many, the local football club represents the town in which they live and the people that call it home. But with recent overseas investment, new owners will be looking to bring English football to the world.
Wrexham’s owners have benefitted from a football story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, securing promotion to the English football league for the first time in 15 years. The small Welsh city was awash with a sea of red as thousands of fans took to the streets, filling the pubs and cheering their team.
The investment by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney was undoubtedly a huge catalyst for this small Welsh team’s ascension, where fans are just as likely to see Blake Lively, Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell in their pubs as they are to see the King of England. Not a bad addition to the home support ahead of a must-win game.
The Club has benefitted from signing lucrative sponsorship deals with tech giants TikTok and American-based, United Airlines, as well as releasing a behind-the-scenes docuseries on Disney+, Welcome to Wrexham which brought their football fairytale to the masses.
Of course, Reynolds and McElhenney seem to be on a mission to monopolise the sporting space after it was confirmed that, together with Otro Capital and US investment firm RedBird – which is also an investor of the Fenway Sports Group, the owner of Liverpool FC – Reynolds and McElhenney and Michael B. Jordan’s company Maximum Effort Investments has pledged a €200m (~$330 million AUD) investment for a 24% share of Formula 1 team Alpine this year.
It was announced in July that seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady had secured a minority share of Birmingham City Football Club, an English team in the Championship, one tier below the Premier League.
“Birmingham City is an iconic club with so much history and passion and to be part of the Blues is a real honour for me,” Brady said to the Club’s website. “BCFC is built on teamwork and determination and I’m excited to work alongside the board, management and players to make our Second City club second to none.”
Birmingham is called the Second City in England due to its population, but have never enjoyed the lofty successes of some of England’s more notable cities: Manchester, Liverpool and of course, the many that play in London.
“He’s not here for promotional purposes.”Tom Wagner, Birmingham City owner
Brady’s investment in Birmingham comes at a time when more and more of the English football pyramid is available to interested investors. It’s unclear how large the former NFL star’s share is, but with his appointment as Chairman of Birmingham’s new Advisory Board, it’s fair to say it’s more than just a PR exercise.
Lionel Messi joined David Beckham’s Inter Miami side in a historic deal for football in America. More than 65,000 fans were packed into the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as the rain continued to fall, waiting for hours to witness the greatest to have ever played the game. For a football-averse country such as America, this was a poignant moment. It was a signal of things to come.
As part of Messi’s deal with MLS, the World Cup winner and seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will enjoy shares of revenue from streaming giants Apple after it was confirmed they had committed $2.5 billion USD (~$3.6 billion AUD) over ten years for the rights to the league’s games.
Since the end of last season, the MLS has gained 24 million new followers across social media; 22 million of those have come since Lionel Messi was confirmed as an Inter Miami player.
It almost feels unfathomable to me that football, the world’s most celebrated game, is finally having its moment in places such as Australia and the U.S. For leagues, clubs and therefore, owners, football represents a commercial opportunity like no other. It feels like now is the perfect time to get in on the action.