What Hollywood’s Reynolds and McElhenney achieved at Wrexham

WREXHAM, WALES – May 2, 2023: Wrexham AFC co-owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney celebrate with the club’s men’s and women’s teams at a bus parade following their respective National League winning seasons in Vanarama and Genero Adrian North.

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LONDON – When Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham AFC, a small Welsh football club languishing in the fifth tier of the English league pyramid, many were skeptical that the two Hollywood stars would be able to give their long-suffering fans cause for celebration. .

Not least because, by their own admission, neither had the first idea of ​​football – or football as they would now be forced to call it – nor North Wales, where is based the sport’s third oldest professional club.

The pair completed their £2m ($2.5m) takeover of the club in February 2021, and last month Wrexham won the National League title from Vanarama, securing promotion to the English Football League (EFL) system after 15 years in the desert. .

The club will compete in EFL League Two next year and now boast a reinvigorated local fan base, a global cult following drawn to their A-list owners and a hit documentary series. His budget will likely eclipse that of many of next year’s Ligue 2 opponents, although the competition will be much tougher.

“What strikes me is how badly it could have gone. People are waiting in the wings to shoot this stuff down,” Sam Hollis, chief strategy officer at the British management consultancy, told CNBC. FutureBrand, last week.

“There’s a lot of pressure and attention from the press, not to mention skepticism from die-hard football fans. Towns like Wrexham are so fiercely proud of their club, it’s part of their way of life. . They don’t easily welcome outsiders in there. Some kind of ecosystem.”

Teams like Wrexham, based in smaller regional towns and competing in the lower leagues – far from the multibillion-dollar glamor of England’s flagship Premier League – are often an integral part of their communities.

WREXHAM, WALES – 2nd May 2023: Wrexham AFC fans celebrate on a bus parade after their league title win. A fan donned the costume of Deadpool, the comic book character played by co-owner Ryan Reynolds.

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As such, fans would resent being seen as a celebrity plaything and expect owners to dedicate both time and resources to ensuring the success of their club.

Seemingly mindful of this, Reynolds and McElhenney quickly managed to establish a relationship with the local community, and Hollis attributed this to their “radical transparency” approach.

“If they had come in and pretended they knew what they were doing, or that they knew anything about football, it would have been impossible to go on like this. They don’t even talk about it like people from the UK talking about it. They’re not using the right lexicon,” Hollis noted, suggesting that the duo’s self-deprecating willingness to learn on the job from the club’s fan base has helped to bolster the trust.

“So brutal honesty and transparency, coming in and acknowledging that the city owns the club. They’re looking after it and helping it through this chapter, but it will still belong to the Wrexham community. This approach won over a lot of people immediately. on their side,” he added.

I can see a lot of people trying to go with the flow and buy a club that doesn’t perform well to replicate the format, but unless they’re willing to spend the time and money and stick with it really engage, then I think it would be risking failing or being terribly wrong.

Sam Hollis

Head of Strategy, FutureBrand

The club’s popularity was given a huge boost by the Disney+ and HBO documentary series ‘Welcome to Wrexham’, which followed the new owners’ efforts to secure promotion to League Two in their first season at the helm.

That first campaign ultimately fell through, as Wrexham lost a thriller 5-4 to eventual promotion winners Grimsby Town in the playoff semi-finals. Grimsby have since cemented their position in Ligue 2, and the two clubs will meet again next season.

While celebrity endorsement and the associated global attention helped build Wrexham’s profile, the stars of “Deadpool” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” accompanied him with commitment and investment. Hollis said they understood that “it would take more than funny Twitter posts and a documentary” to turn around a struggling club like Wrexham.

“For example, you often see the two actors at football games, hanging out with the players on the team. That kind of dedication plays a crucial role in attracting more fan support,” Hollis said.

Wrexham fans have suffered greatly over the past few decades as the club has been pushed to the brink by colossal debts and the lasting financial impacts of a series of disastrous owners. In 2005, a couple of real estate profiteers stripped of assets had their plans to optimize the club’s property assets and sell the land foiled by a local taxi driver, still honored to this day for his role in saving the club.

A local businessman then took over but failed to consolidate the club’s finances and eventually oversaw its relegation from the Football League in 2008. When Wrexham was put up for sale in 2010, a series offers from controversial personalities with checkered histories were rejected. .

The club was on the brink of financial exclusion in the 2011/12 season until the Wrexham Supporters Trust managed to save it with fan donations.

The WST kept the club afloat for a decade, but Reynolds and McElhenney’s takeover bid in November 2020 represented new hope for Wrexham to return to the big leagues.

Celebrity interest in football has grown in recent years, with Hollywood stars regularly spotted on various English grounds, suggesting copycat efforts could emerge after the relative success, so far, of Wrexham. .

“I can see a lot of people trying to jump on the bandwagon and buy a club that isn’t performing well to replicate the format, but unless they’re willing to spend the time and money and get really commit to it, then I think it’s at risk of failing or going horribly wrong,” Hollis said.

“Anyone who wants to follow this model needs to understand that they’re not just lending their star power. When you become an owner, you also become an investor, and that’s the key to success.”


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