It has been a fairytale few months for north Wales football team Wrexham AFC. The world’s third-oldest professional club, Wrexham spent 87 successive seasons in the Football League, but since being relegated in 2008 has remained in the National League, the fifth tier of English football.
And yesterday, the club secured a glamorous shirt sponsorship from TikTok, perhaps the most zeitgeisty global brand of recent years.
The appeal to TikTok of associating with such an entertaining and offbeat sports story is clear. There will be no end of positive earned media for the brand; Reynolds and McElhenney’s takeover was almost universally approved by the Supporters Trust, the previous owner of Wrexham. The recently announced documentary series Welcome to Wrexham, produced by FX Entertainment, offers great opportunities for content on the social video platform, with TikTok promising the partnership would be “one of the most innovative in entertainment and football”.
But if Wrexham manages to end its 13-year wait for promotion to the Football League, there’s another prize in the offing: an appearance in EA Sports’ massive Fifa games franchise. It’s too late for the club to appear in the next edition, Fifa 22, but if the promised injection of cash from the new owners helps Wrexham go up this season, it will be a playable team in Fifa 23, during the second season of TikTok’s two-year sponsorship.
That would mean TikTok following in the footsteps of Burger King, which won huge global attention and plaudits, including three Cannes Lions Grands Prix, after gaining a presence in Fifa by sponsoring League Two club Stevenage FC, then encouraging gamers to play as the Hertfordshire side.
That campaign resonated both with the creative world and gamers, because it is exactly the kind of thing Burger King has done so well for years: creative thinking that is immediately recognised as such by ordinary people, and wins eyeballs by subverting the norms and infrastructure of advertising.
As I wrote at the start of last year, Burger King’s ideas are often ones that won’t really work twice. But there’s often an exception that tests such a rule, and if another brand can psych up gamers in the same way, it is surely one that is itself an enormous media platform.
It’s fair to assume this sponsorship will have been considerably cheaper than a shirt sponsorship of a Premier League side, although somewhat pricier than an average deal for a club at Wrexham’s level.
A partnership like this would be “impossible to value due to the unique nature of the celebrities involved”, Rupert Pratt, head of creative and insights at Snack Media, said. While he called the deal a clever move, Pratt sounded a note of caution: “I think this cements [Wrexham] as more of an entertainment platform than a football club, with the story and activity off the pitch being more valuable than the activity on it.”
A TikTok spokesman acknowledged the possibility of the brand appearing in Fifa, but was not immediately able to comment on whether this was a factor when negotiating the deal. He did point out, however, that football gaming is not just about Fifa. TikTok will definitely be showing up in rival title Football Manager, from Sports Interactive and Sega, which Wrexham already appears in, thanks to the game's more expansive coverage of lower league football.
In any case, the brand is surely wise not to make too much of it yet – football is a funny old game, and Wrexham’s story could well end in tears. But if they do go up: well, expect some scenes.