May 16, 2023

Wrexham AFC: a Hollywood power move or a masterclass in community engagement?

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Wrexham AFC: a Hollywood power move or a masterclass in community engagement?

Hollywood sign on Hollywood hill

  • Why two celebrities wanted to buy Wrexham AFC
  • Authentic investment and best intentions
  • A masterclass in community engagement

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard about Wrexham AFC’s rise to prominence by now. The football club in North Wales was a relative unknown until Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney catapulted it into the limelight; the two bought the club in 2020 for £2m.

After watching the Netflix series Sunderland ‘Til I DieMcElhenney wanted to create his very own documentary with his own club. Many conversations and DMs later, Reynolds was on board, the fans had approved the investment and it was happening. Reynolds said: “The biggest challenge was the community going ‘what the f*** are these two guys doing here?’”. Questions swirled around the seemingly out of the blue interest in the football club; however, I think the two celebs were captivated by how football in the UK resonates so deeply with fans and the wider community, compared to most US sports, which the Sunderland series so aptly illustrates. So, the fairy tale started…

Before they made their offer, the pair met with 2,000+ supporters on Zoom to ‘pitch’ their investment – Wrexham has been owned by the Wrexham Supporters Trust since 2011 and they were ultimately who the stars needed approval from. Reynolds and McElhenney also signed a 25-year stadium lease so that the fans knew they wouldn’t move the team (Wrexham AFC plays at the oldest international ground in the world). In fact, it has just been announced that Wrexham AFC will be given £17m by the Welsh government to renovate the Racecourse Ground thanks, in large part, to the club’s recent promotion back to the Football League (cue another Hollywood star, Paul Rudd, filming McElhenney and Reynolds’ reactions the moment the team was promoted). 

From the outset, the investment from both Reynolds and McElhenney has been authentic and with the best intentions for the Wrexham community. The A-list stars vowed to help the club and the community; they invested in community schemes and hired voluntary staff, they drank pints in the local pub, they promoted the club on their social media channels, they attended matches (with glamorous Blake Lively also making an appearance) and they’ve even appeared in an advert for Ifor Williams Trailers, a local business. Sponsorship deals have been signed with the likes of TikTok, Expedia and Reynolds’ own Aviation American Gin. This strategy ensures the team has global reach but it is making waves closer to home too; season ticket purchases have nearly tripled from 2,609 in 2019 to 6,820 in 2022. It took the team 15 seasons of playing in the National League (fifth tier in English football) to secure a promotion to the Football League just two years after the Hollywood stars became involved. 

Should we think of Reynolds and McElhenney as the Fairy Godfathers of football? From an outsider’s perspective it seems like the Wrexham community has genuinely embraced its new owners and everything they have brought to the club and local area. Yes they have the money, yes they have the connections and yes they are benefitting from their involvement but Wrexham AFC and indeed Wrexham itself has benefitted too. Reynolds and McElhenney have made donations to the Wrexham Foodbank to support struggling families, and frontline emergency service workers and charities were invited to a specially commissioned private premiere of Reynolds’ movie, Free Guy, by way of a thank you for their work during the pandemic. These are just a few examples of how the pair’s interest and investment in the city extends beyond football. 

This is a masterclass in community engagement. What started out as a dream to have a documentary made about a football club has developed into a true passion and a long-term relationship with the community. 

So much of our work for our clients is rooted in community engagement, forging relationships and good will and driving awareness to increase and attract support. This manifests itself in our work with: Socius, an impactful developer which places great emphasis on social impact and community engagement throughout planning processes and beyond; ACS International Schools, a group of schools in the UK and Qatar which works in its local community to widen educational opportunities and increase collaboration. It has also led to the creation of FXP Festival, our award-winning community education initiative (now a registered charity) which drives social mobility by helping disadvantaged children improve their career aspirations and prospects in the creative digital sector. 

Through authentic engagement, active listening, savvy marketing and investment (financial and time), the Wrexham fairy tale is proof that a celebrity name doesn’t have to be just that – a recognisable name to splash around but rather a mutually beneficial exchange: “Wrexham is where the impossible is possible”.

And if anyone is in any doubt about how to pronounce Rob McElhenney’s surname – enjoy this glorious number from Ryan Reynolds