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How a tiny Scottish soccer club is chasing ‘Wrexham’-sized dreams | CNN




Soccer is becoming firmly entrenched in mainstream pop culture with hit television shows like “Ted Lasso” and “Welcome to Wrexham,” the documentary series detailing Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s ownership of the Welsh soccer club, introducing the sport to new audiences in the US and abroad – as Chris Ewing is quickly discovering.

On any given evening, Ewing receives emails informing him that some fan in a far-flung location – say, Los Angeles – has just invested in his tiny Scottish soccer club, the Caledonian Braves.

“Then 10 minutes later, there would be someone from Australia invest in the club and it’s just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it,’” Ewing, the club’s founder, tells CNN Sport.

Nestled in the leafy outskirts of Motherwell, a town about 20 kilometers southeast of Glasgow, the Caledonian Braves play in the Scottish fifth division with a team of mostly amateur players at a ground with capacity for just 500 fans.

But, despite its small home, Ewing’s vision of creating a fan-owned club, steeped in values of diversity and community with ambitions of reaching the Scottish Premier League, has attracted more than $300,000 in investment from more than 1,000 owners around the world, far outstripping the annual running costs of about $58,000, he says.

Among those owners include an NBA player, an NBA coach and a players’ union executive as well as soccer players in the US’ National Women Super League (NWSL). Investors in 49 US states have bought in – Wyoming is the only state pending on the list, he says.

“A community club, most people would think, is a local community bound by a certain geography,” says Ewing.

“But I think that today when we have internet, we have social media, we have an app as well that promotes fan engagement, I feel like a community can be just shared ideals and shared values, and it can be global.”

Visiting Scotland and learning about the country’s history was an “amazing” experience for Mujtaba Elgoodah, one of the club’s lead investors, he remembers.

More used to basketball than soccer, Elgoodah was the manager of team development for the Golden State Warriors when they won the 2022 NBA title and is now part of the National Basketball Players’ Association executive leadership team.

But, when braving the bitterly cold Scottish weather to visit the club in February, he discovered “there is nothing like a good football match,” Elgoodah tells CNN Sport.

“Just seeing the intensity and even picking up different slang words that the crowd was throwing out there was amazing too,” he adds.

Elgoodah had been intrigued by the Braves’ story and ethos when he happened across their story on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, last year.

He set about assembling a group of investors who could appreciate both soccer’s potential for growth and the importance of community alongside his longtime investment partner Nassir Criss, a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

Together, they involved NWSL’s Kansas City Current stars Elizabeth Ball, Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace with their wealth of soccer knowledge, and introduced Boston Celtics performance coach Isaiah Covington to Ewing after he had also noticed the club’s story on social media.

“I didn’t grow up around soccer,” Covington recalls. “But in the last few years, I have a host of nieces and nephews and that’s all they play now.”

Though still nowhere near as popular as American football or basketball, soccer is the fastest-growing sport in the US and the most popular choice for adults under the age of 30. As a high school sport alone, it has grown by almost 300% in the last 40 years.

“You see … all these celebrities owning football clubs, it’s kind of the new wave that people are on,” Hamilton says.

“And so I think that that’s been a really huge, powerful movement in the US saying, ‘Hey, you know, we can’t own an NFL team, but we can own a small football team.’”

With its idea for lots of small investors helping it achieve huge ambitions, the Braves embodies an American style “entrepreneurial spirit,” Criss tells CNN Sport.

“How do we take something new that no one’s ever really heard of, this wee club with massive ambitions to being a global franchise and pour in resources, community, people to actually accelerate that on a very big scale,” he says.

As more and more money pours into soccer, the gap between fans and owners has become a cavern at many clubs. In the battle for soccer’s soul, the two groups are often pitted against each other – the fans as representing the history and traditions of the sport, the owners cast as turning clubs into commercial entities or vehicles for sportswashing.

Mutjaba Elgoodah was part of the backroom staff when the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title in 2022.

Against this backdrop, fan ownership has emerged as somewhat of a utopian panacea for some fans.

While it is still an unusual model in the UK, particularly in the English Premier League and Championship where clubs operate at huge losses, the Braves are not the first to pursue this goal.

They were set up as a company limited by shares in 2022 meaning that fans can buy into it, and expect to file their first set of accounts in October. Ewing founded a previous attempt at this ownership model from 2019 to 2021 but dissolved it before ever trading, he says.

In Scotland, fans have become majority owners at topflight clubs St Mirren, Motherwell and Heart of Midlothian in recent years while several others, including Rangers and Celtic, count fans among their minority owners.

In German soccer culture, meanwhile, the 50+1 concept of fan majority ownership is deeply entrenched thereby giving fans more of a say in the running of clubs, a model Ewing says he hopes to eventually emulate.

But fan ownership isn’t easy, namely working out how to marshal hundreds of opinions into some sort of coherent opinion.

Ewing, who doesn’t take a salary from the club, admits that managing expectations has proved challenging “because people think they can just say, okay, let’s do x, y, z.”

“With the best intentions in the world, it’s maybe not as easy as that, but I think as well, the big thing for me is that people get to love the highs and the lows.”

The Braves currently play in the Scottish fifth division.

The Braves have an app and Discord channel, helping to foster this sense of community and allowing fan owners to have a voice on the direction of the club. Fans picked the club’s name, logo and the name of its ground – Alliance Park.

Allowing fans this ownership over the team is proving infectious, its investors are finding.

“Anytime I ever post about the Braves … people will DM me and be like, “’Who’s this team … and how do I get involved?’” Ball says.

Such a project is a marked difference from Ewing’s original venture, Edusport Academy, which he established in 2011, intending to provide a place for promising young soccer players, mostly from France, to hone their craft and learn English.

As time went by, the academy’s first team started playing in the Scottish soccer leagues and separated to form the Caledonian Braves in 2019.

Now, as the Braves continue to grow, it has set its sights on rising up through the leagues but in a sustainable way that preserves the club for years to come.

“(We’re) flipping the narrative that you don’t have to be Tom Brady or Matthew McConaughey or Ryan Reynolds,” says Ewing. “You can be anyone really from anywhere and you can also own a football club for as little as $100.”

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