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Celebrity Ownership is BOOMING

4 minute read Published June 11, 2024

Next year, in League One, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney's Wrexham AFC will be facing both Tom Brady’s Birmingham City and ice hockey stars Erik Karlsson and Mats Zuccarello's Burton Albion. Karlsson and Zuccarello just bought the Staffordshire club last week. If you’re into hockey, you’ll definitely know them. Celebrity teams are becoming a big part of football.

Celebrity ownership is nothing new in English football. In 1976, Elton John bought Watford FC, which then played in League Two, the fourth tier. He appointed himself chairman and his ambition was to take the club all the way to the Premier League. 1983 became Watford FCs best season ever, as the club finished second behind Liverpool.

Elton John. Photo: Ernst Vikne, CC BY-SA 2.0

Celebrity Ownership Today

However, it has become increasingly popular lately. Both former players, retired athletes from other sports and musicians and actors are getting involved. The most famous take over, of course, is Reynolds and McElhenneys of Wrexham AFC. They weren’t born when Elton John bought Watford. 

What’s different in their case is that they own the entire club. For the most part, the celebrity is part of a group that buys a club. The celebrity offers a PR opportunity and adds legitimacy to these kinds of deals. A celebrity name attached helps raise money in the first stage, it can help attract sponsors and make it easier to convince players to join.

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

They’re also part of a new economy. Streaming and social media offers new mediums clubs can use to make money. At Wrexham AFC, the celebrity owners have put the club in a position with sponsors that they could have never achieved. TikTok, Expedia and Vistaprint are huge companies for whom it only makes sense to sponsor if the payoff is huge. 

These celebrities often make a lot of money. As an investment, something entertainment related makes a lot of sense. Warren Buffett says ”Invest in what you know”, and this is what they’ve taken to heart. They’re entertainers. Some of them are athletes, yes, but entertainers too. The understanding of how to market an entertainment product is invaluable.

This is evident in the former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s decision to buy Portsmouth FC. After having worked in entertainment for his entire life, a large part of it at the biggest entertainment company in the world, he obviously sees an opportunity in football, English football in particular.

Former Footballers

There are also a lot of former footballers that are now getting into ownership. A footballer's career is short. On top of their marketability towards investors, fans and potential players, they’ve also got a wealth of knowledge from the business of football.

Fabregas and Henry are involved in Como 1907. While the latter is keeping busy as a pundit these days, Fabregas has been heavily involved in the footballing aspect of his investment. He took over as interim manager when the club chose to sack theirs. He turned around Como’s form and, after his tenure as interim ended, joined the bench as an assistant. What an asset to have someone who can do that as an owner.

Gerard Pique is another footballer who’s gone into ownership. In 2018, well before his retirement from professional football, the centre back bought Andorra FC. Since then they’ve gotten promoted twice. 

David Beckham has also gotten involved in the business of football since his retirement. He made a deal with the MLS when he went to play there where he’s be allowed to start his own franchise. That franchise is now home to one of the best players in history. 

David Beckham. Photo: Shutterstock.

Back in 1976 when Elton John bought Watford FC, he did it for the love of the club. He’s said that he never made any money off it. These days, while the celebrity owners may care about the project, it’s more of a business decision to get into football club ownership.

They see an opportunity where they can leverage their own brand, their connections and experience to refine an existing business. It makes sense that’s how both former footballers and other celebrities chose to invest their time and money.

The celebrity ownership has boomed in the past decade and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Let’s see who gets into it next.

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