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Trends & Insights | Blog

Wrexham AFC and the power of influence in the community

August 3, 2023


The story of Wrexham AFC is not only a fairytale befitting its Disney+ TV show, but also the clearest indicator yet as to how sporting talent and teams will be marketed and promoted in the future. 

Chris Carr

Senior Account Director

The story of Wrexham AFC is not only a fairytale befitting its Disney+ TV show, but also the clearest indicator yet as to how sporting talent and teams will be marketed and promoted in the future. 

Behind the romance of one of the world’s oldest football clubs being resurrected from non-league obscurity - by Hollywood A-list co-owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, no less - is a clear business strategy with digital media at its heart. 

It’s now more than two years since the £2m takeover, and the plans are paying off – both on and off the pitch. 

In May, Wrexham AFC celebrated promotion back to League Two, England’s fourth division, in emphatic fashion. This achievement is only a fraction of the story though, with a different type of success emanating from the backrooms of the club.

Wrexham has gone from being a small club, with local community support, to one with a global cult following. TV broadcaster ESPN revealed match viewing figures increased by 858% as a direct result of showcasing Wrexham - meaning around 100 million households will have watched the Red Dragons last season. And that’s before mentioning the viewing totals of Disney’s £430k-per-episode hit show. 

In addition, the club’s social media channels have gone from tens of thousands to around 3.3m engaged followers. These numbers of course don’t even include Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s own social followings. 

These media metrics have already translated into huge financial rewards. United Airlines, TikTok and Expedia head up the long list of brand sponsors. And the newly-promoted League Two club has a pre-season tour of the US lined up this summer, ready to take on some of the game’s biggest names. For context, Leyton Orient – champions in the league above – had a roster of purely local partnerships. Latest accounts put the valuation at triple the initial investment, but this could potentially be far higher since promotion and the TV deal.

What role has social media played?

The numbers behind the club’s social media efforts highlight the importance placed on these channels to achieve their goals. Since the takeover, the club’s Twitter following has increased over 1,000%, Instagram by more than 3,000%, and their TikTok channel, which wasn’t even launched at the time, now has 1.4m followers. That’s more than five current Premier League teams. 

This huge growth has been underpinned by an aggressive publishing strategy, featuring nearly 6,000 posts during the 22/23 season – an average of 19.5 posts per day across all channels. 

This has resulted in Wrexham’s owned content being viewed by an estimated 708m – over 200x the population of Wales – highlighting the magnitude of the brand’s global appeal. It also achieved an average engagement rate of 3.99% - comparing favourably to the 2.74% industry benchmark - indicating on scale how well this content has resonated. 

The platform strategy makes for interesting reading too:

  • Facebook accounted for 211.3m estimated impressions with an average engagement rate per estimated impressions of 1.21%
  • Instagram accounted for 214.1m estimated impressions with an average engagement rate per estimated impressions of 5.7%
  • Twitter accounted for 178.9m estimated impressions with an average engagement rate per estimated impressions of 2.06%
  • YouTube accounted for 7.4m estimated views with an average engagement rate per estimated impressions of 2.04%
  • TikTok accounted for 96.4m estimated views with an average engagement rate per estimated impressions of 10%

This was a concerted multi-channel effort driven by volume and awareness as key objectives. There were no specific targeting strategies – it was simply about reaching as many different types of people as possible. 

A look at the cadence of content throughout the season supports this. Disregarding May where their season was finished and it was largely just wrap-up content being posted, there’s a consistent publishing schedule of over 400 posts per month. 

As momentum grew around the club's story, and on-field success started to follow, there was a huge upward trend in cross-channel engagement through the start of 2023, peaking during their league triumph in April.

The real magic in Wrexham’s social strategy has been in its storytelling. This is how the club has been able to scale awareness and engagement at the same time, and at pace. And this is perhaps where the owners have arguably offered most value. 

Some high performing examples include:

  • Ryan Reynolds’ Ted Lasso-inspired feature, which was the club’s most engaged TikTok post during the season 
  • A funny bromance between two players that showed how performance on the pitch is not always essential for performance off it. This post also reveals a pattern: the most successful content isn’t always to do with in-game or training ground footage, as we’ve become accustomed to with the biggest teams
  • Some of the top-performing content on other channels further supports this off-pitch storytelling. It’s not a big money signing, it’s not a 30-yard free kick, or a last-minute winner; it’s the people involved in the story being portrayed in an authentic and transparent way. It’s not a polished broadcast – it’s about players and owners talking and acting transparently and directly to fans: see this Instagram, YouTube, Facebook post, and TikTok for proof
  • This YouTube video, where the club’s owners are seen talking openly about the club’s business activities, showcasing charitable work, highlighting the women’s game, and interacting with sponsors in a genuine and entertaining way. Where else in football has this been seen before? Answer: nowhere

Social amplification of sponsorships 

One aspect of activity, and surely something the wider sports industry can learn from, is how Wrexham’s social strategy has helped leverage brand partnerships in such an impactful way. 

Brand partnership posts are typically among the worst-performing content across major football clubs’ content output. It’s a box-ticking exercise, with little creative thought put into it, in order to appease shareholders. 

Ryan and Rob have turned that on its head and adopted a consistent approach to all posts, including sponsorships. The results have been telling…

StokBrew, an American company that is a key sponsor for the team, announced the partnership with Wrexham in a cleverly crafted video. The launch posts reached over 5m people and generated 50k engagements. Not bad for a company with only 70k followers across all social platforms. 

On a larger scale, United Airlines - a company worthy of Premier League sponsorship - has bought into the Wrexham story and partnered up. The launch post once again followed a similar theme and was rewarded by reaching around 15m people. This kind of reach is usually associated with Premier League clubs – but for the sponsors of Wrexham, at a fraction of the cost. 

Striking a deal with Wrexham is not only an investment into the club and its newfound platform, but also direct access into the global communities that follow Ryan and Rob. Any association will have far-reaching benefits to brand sentiment. 

United Airlines COO, Josh Earnest, mentioned this when he said: “We’re also excited to partner with the team and their co-chairmen across social media on their hit TV show, as the incredible story of this team and its loyal fans continues to unfold.”

This statement, from a top-tier sponsor, shows how important social media is when executed with the right talent and brand. 

What impact has this had?

A huge one. For comparative purposes, we’ve looked at Aston Villa over the same timeframe. Aston Villa finished seventh in the Premier League last season, qualifying for Europe. As a club, they ranked 19th globally in 2022 for highest revenue, and Statista ranked them as the eighth most supported Premier League team. 

Looking at the below Google UK search volumes for Aston Villa (red) and Wrexham (blue) shows there isn’t much to separate interest in the two clubs. This is a high-flying Premier League team having a great season versus a non-league club. It’s David and Goliath. In football terms, it’s a cup giant-killing. To even be in contention with regards to search volume is crazy. 

The data gets even more eye-opening when looking at what is happening in the US. Wrexham, for most of the season, outpaced one of the Premier League’s biggest teams. This is the same US sports market that is valued at around $80bn and that over half the Premier League clubs’ owners have been trying for years to crack. 

To think of all the investment that has gone into Premier League clubs trotting around the US on pre-season tours over the past 20 years, with varying degrees of success, it shows how powerful this Wrexham story is. This isn’t just a few A-list celebs rolling out funny videos, it’s a laser-focused business plan targeting not only northern Wales, but also the sports world's most lucrative market. 

Media efforts directly correlate to financial gain 

Over the last season, turnover soared 404% to almost £6m – a record for non-league football. Just go back one year and look at the accounts up to June 30, 2022 – they reveal that sponsorship and advertising brought in £1.05m, which is a huge jump.

Retail sales are at unprecedented levels, season tickets have unheard of waiting lists, and the sponsorship landscape will only become more lucrative as media efforts continue to increase. 

The club is now in the midst of a summer pre-season tour of the US alongside Europe’s biggest names, including Chelsea and Manchester United. Even the way Wrexham announced the tour was in typical viral fashion with a punchy, star-studded video. 

Wrexham played LA Galaxy’s reserves on July 22 and, incredibly, tickets were priced in a similar bracket to one of football’s biggest games: the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

This illustrates the hype in America for all things Wrexham. Tickets were priced at $55 (~£43), which is enough to pick up two tickets to the LA Dodgers – a very well established American sports team. The most expensive tickets were $500 (~£386) to watch a fourth tier British team against a US second tier. Bonkers.

The bottom line

Wrexham’s social strategy shows that it’s not just about having celebrity influence, it’s about compelling storytelling with real people and emotion at its heart. Yes, Wrexham is a club owned by two A-list celebs, but the club offers so much more than that. It’s a relatable underdog story – the players and staff are portrayed as real people, and the owners lead from the front with authentic and entertaining content underpinned by a comprehensive digital media distribution strategy. 

From super leagues and state ownership, to social media trolling and hate speech, the world of football has slowly been losing its soul. Wrexham's story is breathing fresh life back in the most inspiring way possible.

In recent years, Formula 1 has become the world’s fastest growing sport by following this exact strategy. It created macro-awareness, through long-form content such as Netflix’s hit documentary Drive to Survive, and humanised the drivers and team owners via social media and consistent content. 

It’s no coincidence that Reynolds and McElhenney have now invested in F1 as well, and are applying a near carbon copy strategy to replicate the sports success with Wrexham. This, more than anything, is what the future of sports business marketing looks like.

You can explore more of our Wrexham A.F.C insights and analysis in this infographic. For more updates on the latest in social media, you can sign up to receive our daily WhatsApp updates and subscribe to the Battenhall Monthly newsletter here.

Appendix and Source notes