Celebrity entrepreneurship is everywhere, as Shay Mitchell turns from a “Pretty Little Liar” into luggage purveyor, Gwyneth Paltrow shifts from Shakespeare in love to seller of vagina candles and eggs, and Ashton Kutcher moves from star of “Dude Where’s My Car?” to guy asking, “dude, where’s my next venture capital firm and how quickly can my venture capital firm build an A.I. portfolio?” (The answer to that was just five weeks.) Whatever you’re looking for, be it shoddy vitamins or actually good makeup, A-list stars are ready to be your retailers and investors. And, post four months of retirement, former NFL player JJ Watt is no exception.
The previous Pro Bowl defensive end for the Houston Texans is now playing a different game, after becoming a minority shareholder at the English soccer team, Burnley FC. Shortly after co-investing with his wife, Kealia, a sports star in her own right as a former USWNT player, Watts already appears to be having a blast with his new team, and he’s being open about how he’s taking a page from celebrity mega-investor Ryan Reynolds’ playbook.
Co-star of “The Proposal,” serial investor, and husband to Blake Lively, Reynolds had some advice for Watts regarding the transition. Reynolds, who co-invested in Welsh soccer team Wrexham alongside actor Rob McElhenney, was happy to give Watts some pointers, the new Burnley shareholder told The Athletic. Watts notes that Reynolds emphasized the importance of recognizing that soccer overseas has an entirely different culture that involves an intense loyalty not always typical of American sports.
“He told me I had to respect and honour that history and tradition and do right by that group otherwise you will lose them before you start,” Watts says. His strategy for endearing himself not just to the team but also to fans or “supporters,” in the English parlance, of Burnley, seems to be about integrating himself into their culture, and having a good time while he’s at it.
Going on a pub crawl as purported “research” to connect with the base, Watts explains that his search to endear himself includes “lots of pints of Guinness along the way,” which reads a lot like a Frat star claiming that chugging Natty Lights is about research, though in Watts’ case it may actually be fruitful (as Watts is trying to get to know the fanbase).
He tells The Athletic that he’s had fun watching McElhenney and Reynolds’ successful journey (taking a nod from them about learning about the team’s community), and “talk[ing] ball” with Burnley manager Vincent Kompany, a former star player at nearby Manchester City, a marquee investment from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family. Other American athletes have invested in English clubs, too, most notably LeBron James with a reported 2% stake in Liverpool in 2011 for $6.5 million—later converted to shares in Liverpool’s owner, Fenway Sports Group. With Liverpool up for sale at a $4 billion valuation, James’ investment looks to have grown appreciably.
Reynolds and McElhenney’s $2.5 million investment in Wrexham has paid off, too, as besides a hit documentary series for FX/Disney, they are improving on the pitch. Just last month, they won promotion up a division within England’s pyramid structure, and they will begin to play in League Two (the fourth division) next season. Theoretically, they could reach the first division, the Manchester City-dominated Premier League, someday. The accounts tell a different story, as the BBC reports that Reynolds and McElhenney have lost £3 million since taking over Wrexham a year ago. Maybe, as Reynolds once admitted, Lively should have been consulted before the two poured almost $3 million into the underdog team, though the club notes that turnover was up five times since last year.
The duo also seems to be having fun getting involved as co-owners, as they’ve repeatedly been photographed celebrating during emotional highs and lows. At one point, fellow star Paul Rudd came along to see what they have pooled so much energy and money into. “I’m now so much in love with this sport that I actually hate it,” Reynolds said to BBC.
Watts’ new club, Burnley, was relegated from the Premier League in 2022, but just weeks ago won promotion back up to the top flight for next season. (Needless to say, Premier League clubs are worth more than most or all of their lower-division counterparts.) As the team gears up for the Premier League, Watts makes it clear that he’s not there to make ripples, as much as he’s there to soak in their customs. “It has been here long before I was here and will be long after I’m gone; all I’m trying to do is respect and elevate what you have,” he said of Burnley.