Ryan Reynolds was never going to be able to sprinkle Wrexham magic on Senators
The NHL was enamoured with the idea of Ryan Reynolds boosting the Senators' profile like he did with Wrexham A.F.C., but that wasn't a repeatable formula.
When Ryan Reynolds reportedly dropped out of the running to own the Ottawa Senators on Friday, it wasn't the best news for the NHL.
Ever since Reynolds showed an interest in the team, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has seen a benefit to marrying the star power of the Canadian actor with a team that Forbes ranked as the league's 24th-most valuable in December.
"He's very smart, he has a number of businesses besides the acting business, and he understands sports, and he understands promotion," Bettman told ESPN on Dec. 13. "I think he told us his followers on all of his platforms combined was well over 100 million. So he's somebody who is very popular and very engaged, and he's doing a great job with Wrexham."
In an NHL board of governors meeting he laid out his position in clear terms saying, "If we can figure out a way to have him included, I think that would be great for the Senators and great for the league."
Bettman, and the NHL, were clearly dreaming of a scenario where Reynolds could use his impressive platform to bring attention to the Senators, and his storytelling ability to generate content around the team similar to his critically-acclaimed "Welcome to Wrexham" series.
Ever since Formula One's "Drive to Survive" docuseries on Netflix helped create massive growth in its fanbase, a number of sports have been trying to replicate the success — and Reynolds is one of the few creators who has proof of concept with that model.
Despite his track record, the idea that Reynolds could do for the Senators what he did for Wrexham A.F.C was always a fantasy, for a number of reasons.
Social reach huge in numbers, minimal in potential impact
When Bettman references the 100 million followers Reynolds has across his various platforms, he does so with a misunderstanding of how that would translate to interest in the Senators.
Of course, there would be some effect, but it wouldn't be nearly what Reynolds was able to do boosting Wrexham's brand.
While statistics on the demographics of Reynolds' social media following are not publicly available, it seems fair to assume the vast majority of the Canadian actor's digital constituents are in North America.
When he put out content about Wrexham he could persuade North Americans — many of whom don't have a rooting interest in a European soccer team — to take an interest in something they weren't aware of that didn't conflict with any of their existing loyalties.
Even for Americans and Canadians with allegiances to teams in leagues like the EPL, La Liga and Bundesliga, it was easy to jump on board with a team in the lowly National League.
If Reynolds was blasting out Senators content, he'd be putting it in front of mostly folks who either have existing NHL allegiances or have been broadly aware of the league for some time and chosen not to take an interest.
There are some persuadable folks in that group, to be sure. But there are also existing loyalties and people who have already come to a strong conclusion about the sport. His Canadian fans are unlikely to leave their existing teams and the Americans might've been reluctant to get enthusiastic about a team from Canada when they have 25 alternatives at home.
Could Reynolds convince some of his followers from overseas to follow the Senators? Maybe. But he was far more influential getting North Americans to ride with a Welsh soccer squad.
'Welcome to Wrexham'-style show wouldn't work
Part of the appeal of Reynolds owning the Senators was the idea that he could create compelling content out of the situation that would drive eyeballs to the team.
That may be true to some degree, but this club's story doesn't have the same stakes that made "Welcome to Wrexham" so compelling.
In Reynolds' docuseries about his Welsh team, the town of Wrexham itself becomes a central character. It's a place that's suffered due to the decline of the coal mining industry and holds up its soccer team as the foundation of its civic pride.
Ottawa is the capital of a G8 country with a population over 1 million.
The success and failure of the Senators is not irrelevant to the mood of its inhabitants, but there's a lot more than hockey going on. If the Sens disappeared off the face of the earth, it would be a blow, but the team is not an institution treasured by the entire populace — many of whom, it must be said, support the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Senators are also an incredibly lucrative business that's about to be sold for a number that will likely be north of $1 billion, and as a member of the NHL the team is at the top of its sport. That kind of entity is harder to get emotionally invested in than a plucky underdog squad trying to fight its way to the top.
While there are compelling stories to tell around the NHL, the story of Wrexham contained relatable underdog figures and got viewers hooked on not only a team, but a town. That wouldn't have happened with Ottawa.
In terms of Reynolds' own involvement, in "Welcome to Wrexham" he played the role of the well-intentioned, clueless foreigner trying to figure things out as he went. That lane wouldn't have been available to him as a Canadian owning a Canadian NHL team, and his charm would've had a harder time coming through.
The competitive component
Another part of the Wrexham formula that wouldn't have worked with Reynolds in Ottawa is that the former could be improved far easier with an influx of money.
Reynolds and his partner, Rob McElhenney were able to help Wrexham A.F.C. succeed by spending far more on their roster than other teams in the National League could afford. That didn't guarantee wins, but it strongly correlated with positive on-field results.
Wrexham's roster was loaded in the context of its level, and that allowed the team to ascend, which in turn made for a better docuseries story. More fans came in via "Welcome to Wrexham" and they instantly had a winning product to get behind.
Because of the NHL's hard salary cap, Reynolds couldn't have arrived in Ottawa and poured financial resources into the team with the expectation of near-instant return on investment.
The Senators have a strong core of young talent and on-ice success may come their way soon, but it's tough to bank one. If Ottawa continued to languish, the Reynolds effect would've been muted.
With Snoop Dogg and The Weeknd still in the mix to buy the Senators, the NHL may get the infusion of star power it was hoping for in its ownership group. Neither has the ceiling for growing the fanbase the league was envisioning with Reynolds, but that dream was probably unrealistic all along.