JJ Watt is developing a strong connection with Burnley. Granted, the Pewaukee, Wisconsin native has no direct ties to the English town with a population just shy of 100,000. Nor is the former NFL defensive lineman known for his affinity to soccer. For much of Watt’s life, his major connection to the sport was through Kealia Ohai, his wife. Kealia Watt represented the United States with the USWNT in addition to a career in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Yet, through pub crawls and continuous wearing of the Burnley FC logo, Watt is showing his affinity for the club. Part of that is, of course, due to his minority ownership in the club that he acquired toward the end of the 2022/23 campaign. Heeding the advice of Ryan Reynolds, Watt is working to understand the tribalism that exists within British soccer fandom.

That community aspect is something that cannot be understated in the English system, including a club such as Burnley. Clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City or Spurs are certainly global. And, in many ways, JJ Watt’s role with Burnley is an ambassadorial venture to grow the club’s brand. With an NFL star on board, Burnley can pull in more Americans to support the Clarets. For reference, JJ Watt’s 5.6 million followers on Twitter exceeds each club in the Premier League outside of the big six.

Connection between JJ Watt and Burnley relates to the town

Still, JJ Watt is embracing that small-town feel of the Lancashire club. Simon Evans, a reporter for the AFP and a lifelong Burnley supporter, says Burnley FC is so pivotal to the town.

“The football club is just so central to the town,” Evans told World Soccer Talk. “You walk around Burnley on a Tuesday afternoon, and there is no game on or anything, and you see people wearing the club shirt. The identity of the club and the team with the town is just so close. They’re interchangeable.”

Evans referenced Green Bay, home of the NFL’s Packers, which is just two hours north of Watt’s hometown of Pewaukee on the outskirts of Milwaukee.

“I’m sure he would have found it familiar,” Evans said regarding Watt’s trips to Burnley in the early stages. “The first time I went to Green Bay and drove into the small town with a big stadium in the middle of it, there is a similarity there.”

Watt never played for the Packers, though, spending most of his career with the Houston Texans before winding down with the Arizona Cardinals. Watt did, however, have a massively successful career in college at the University of Wisconsin. That, according to Evans, is more up the same alley in terms of comparison between Burnley and American sports.

“The vibe you get going to Burnley is probably more what you would find in a college football town, in a town that is like a campus town, really. Everybody is behind that team. Everybody is going to that game.” Evans added that it is near impossible to compare Burnley to one of the metropolitan markets that houses the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or even MLS.

Building Burnley’s brand

Evans maintains that, even though Watt invested in the future of the club, Burnley FC sees Watt as a way to tap into the American audience. JJ Watt, whose followers are, more likely than not, NFL fans, can still lead to some growth for Burnley.

“That old dichotomy that used to exist in America between somebody who was an NFL guy who loved his American sports and then somebody else who was into soccer does not exist in the same way anymore.”

Plus, with Watt constantly promoting Burnley and his adventures with the fans, more traveling fans may be inclined to give the town of Burnley a visit to recreate Watt’s trips.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Colorsport