In what would be the first of its kind for a major professional soccer team, the Welsh team owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney is open to making live broadcasts of Wrexham games free in the USA.

Speaking to World Soccer Talk, Wrexham’s Director of Football Shaun Harvey explained the reasoning behind the unconventional idea. “I personally would love to see Wrexham games free-to-air in the U.S. every single week.

“Whilst that could have a significant financial negative impact on our P&L (profit and loss statement), actually as long as it’s readily available and easily accessible, we’d probably take our chance that we would generate more by creating a bigger fan base than we would on revenue from individual subscribers.”

It could happen, but the decision is out of the hands of Wrexham. It’s up to the English Football League (EFL) to determine as soon as next month how the next international rights deal for seasons 2024/25 through 2027/28 works for clubs in the Championship, League One, and League Two.

The EFL’s current international rights deal ends at the close of this season. Depending on the path the EFL chooses, the result could be transformative for clubs such as Wrexham and the 71 others in the EFL.

The million-dollar question that faces Wrexham and other EFL clubs

Life has come full circle for Harvey. As chief executive of the EFL seven years ago, he was the architect behind the first-of-its-kind streaming platform iFollow. Now on the other side of the desk as a director of a football club, it’s ironic that the iFollow agreement he set up for EFL clubs in 2017 expires at the end of this season. Along with Harvey, EFL club executives up and down England and Wales are patiently awaiting the outcome of the new international rights decision. It may mean the end of iFollow, and the beginning of a new era for EFL clubs.

“As long as games are available easily and at a cost that is manageable for the majority of fans, I’m not wedded to iFollow as the only route to market,” Harvey said. “There may be better routes to market.”

In the tender that was sent to broadcasters last year, there were several different options to consider. One option is that international broadcasters can acquire the exclusive rights to stream every single match from the EFL. For soccer fans, having one subscription to access every game is a dream come true.

“I’m absolutely fascinated to see the response [from broadcasters],” said Harvey. “And if that leads to a move away from iFollow to any form of central distribution or even specific club distribution, whether that’s paid-for or free-to-air, I’m generally comfortable with wherever we end up as long as everybody is able to access Wrexham games wherever they are in the world.”

Wrexham’s popularity could benefit the EFL as a whole

With iFollow coming to an end of its current agreement with clubs, the new deal for seasons 2024/25 through 2027/28 could allow clubs to continue producing and streaming games themselves but not under the iFollow brand. After all, Wrexham is already broadcasting live pre-match and post-match coverage on YouTube. It wouldn’t take a gigantic leap for the Welsh club to broadcast its matches on YouTube or other free-to-air options throughout the United States. (All Wrexham games are currently available on the iFollow streaming service on the Wrexham website).

Wrexham is a genuinely unique club in world soccer. If it can pull off making broadcasts of its games available for free to the United States, it would increase its reach ginormously. At the same time, sponsorship deals and merchandise sales could increase exponentially.

Not every EFL club has the resources or Hollywood stars that Wrexham possess. So, for some, a league-wide revenue share may be preferred.

As an example, Harvey said, “Wrexham will make more money from [streaming subscriptions] individually than our friends at Accrington Stanley. And Accrington Stanley would probably [say] that everything should go into the collective ‘pot’ and be shared that way.

“Wrexham would have a very good reason to argue that it should keep its own individual revenue. The hybrid is that each club keeps its revenue that’s generated from the home games. If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do it as a league-wide product.”

Currently, are Wrexham games free in USA?

The timing of Wrexham’s worldwide popularity certainly is ideal for raising the profile of the EFL internationally as well as the hopes of a record international rights deal. It’ll be the EFL’s last deal before the Premier League and EFL combine the sale of international broadcast rights for 2028/29 onwards.

As Wrexham AFC Club Executive Humphrey Ker explained, “We are in this extraordinary position of being a genuinely unique club in world football because of the level of interest that comes from outside sources and from people who would usually never pay the slightest attention to football.”

Given Wrexham’s newfound popularity worldwide due to the Welcome to Wrexham docuseries, it may not be surprising to learn that Harvey believes Wrexham is the most popular EFL club internationally. Harvey says Wrexham generates more iFollow subscriptions than any of the other 71 EFL clubs in the United Kingdom. That includes clubs with massive fanbases such as Leeds United, Southampton, Leicester City, and Sunderland, among others.

In the United States, ESPN+ has the rights to broadcast a select number of EFL games per season. Any matches not shown by ESPN+ ($10.99 per month) are live-streamed via iFollow by each separate English Football League club. For instance, Wrexham offers a paid streaming subscription on its website. Currently, consumers who support any of the teams in the EFL need a subscription to both ESPN+ and their club’s streaming service to access every game in a season.

Our Pick:

Includes: Bundesliga, LaLiga, FA Cup, & More
Sign Up
 

EFL’s 136 years of history

Founded in 1888, the English Football League consists of the English Championship, which holds claim to being the fifth most-watched division in Europe, as well as League One and League Two. League One last season had more goals scored than LaLiga. Meanwhile, League Two has seen a rise in interest in part due to the three-way title race between Notts County, Wrexham, and Mansfield Town.

Also included in the international rights deal is the English League Cup (known as Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons), which had a cumulative global audience of 9.9 million for the 2023 final. The EFL Trophy is included too.

In total, the EFL touts a cumulative global TV audience of 400 million. The EFL is broadcast to 187 territories worldwide.

Could we see Wrexham games free in the USA in the future? We’ll find out in the next several weeks.

Photo: IMAGO / PA Images.