Welcome to… Portsmouth?

Published: 26/04/2023

Photo by @steaddotphotos

A simple question was asked over in the Pompey Fans group over on Facebook earlier this week. “Why are Pompey fans so obsessed with Wrexham?!”

This was, of course, following Wrexham’s victory over Boreham Wood which confirmed their return to the Football League after a 15-year absence. The Red Dragons are, as everyone that isn’t living under a rock knows, owned by actors Rob McElhenny and Ryan Reynolds and many Pompey fans have been discussing their rise across social media.

So why the interest? Outside of the obvious footballing story and the fact that everyone is interested, it could have something to do with the remarkable similarities between the two. Let me tell you a story from the recent past:

“A football club in the heart of a working class community, with one of the oldest stadiums in the football world, is owned by their supporters after years of bad ownership, mismanagement and financial ruin. The Football Club finds itself in a far lower league than recent history suggests they should be. The Supporters Trust are doing a good job of steadying the ship when, suddenly, the club receives an offer from Americans with a strong Media background. The potential new owners are very well known, with links to Disney and everyone is asking, why us? A pitch is made to the Supporters Trust in which the potential new owners outline their vision for the Club, and why they would be better suited to taking the Club forward. The Fans, burned from previous poor owners, are tempted. Unlike before, these men are well-known and everyone knows exactly where the money has come from.

“A vote is held, the Supporters Trust vote overwhelmingly in favour of selling to these deep-pocketed men and the deal is done.”

Which Club am I talking about? Is it Portsmouth, or Wrexham?

Both.

 


The Clubs were purchased in incredibly similar circumstances and, so far, have had very different stories since the purchases were completed. In fact the same day that Wrexham’s promotion and title win was confirmed, Portsmouth’s stay in League One was confirmed for another year as it became mathematically impossible to reach the Play-Offs.

It is worth mentioning at this stage, League One and the National League are very different leagues. For example, there is no salary-cap or Financial Fair Play regulation in the National League meaning Wrexham can throw money at their first team without consequence or penalty. And whilst Notts County put up an incredible fight, the gap between the top two and the rest of the division is vast. A staggering 25-points separate 2nd from 3rd as it stands.

League One, however, has some former giants with a lot of muscle to contend with. Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, Derby County, Bolton Wanderers to name a few. Coupled with teams like Plymouth Argyle that have had a monumental rise, League One is one of the toughest divisions currently.

But you can’t help looking at the two Clubs and wondering “Why can’t we do that?”

It’s apparent that Wrexham’s owners understand how crucial promotion is to their club. In the documentary “Welcome to Wrexham” there is a meeting in which Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenny and a couple of other club staff are discussing the finances and what promotion means. They are told that, if the club are not promoted, they will lose another £1,000,000. They also discuss the financial implications if the club do achieve promotion, as well as the potential.

Not only that, but the two have used their incredible fame and connections to grow Wrexham AFC off the pitch. Their Social Media presence has increased by 921%, their attendances have averaged 9,954 in the National League and their away following has contributed to record attendances at Altrincham, Dorking Wanderers, Oldham, Boreham Wood, Solihull Moors, Maidstone and even Pompey-Neighbours Eastleigh. The Red Dragons are in the process of completely rebuilding a stand to increase capacity and improve matchday experience. In their latest published accounts,

Wrexham increased turnover by 404%. As reported in The Athletic, however, the £3.67m to purchase the Racecourse Ground is a loan to the club from the ownership, at 3% above base rate. This is something the Eisners have never done, all investments have been equity.

Naturally, owners are not in control of what happens on the pitch. It’s taken time to get it right, with this promotion coming in Reynolds and McElhenny’s second full season in charge. So what could the Eisner’s be doing at Portsmouth to achieve similar success off the pitch?

The first and most obvious answer is communication. We seldom hear from our owners, with Andy Cullen being the main voice coming out of PO4 in his somewhat sporadic Q&A sessions, and Michael Eisner hasn’t publicly spoken to Portsmouth fans for several seasons (private, fan group conferences aside where he has sent pre-recorded messages).  

They could also look to actually attend Fratton Park more. Recently Goalkeeper Ben Foster revealed that Ryan Reynolds attended “roughly one in three matches” at the Racecourse Ground, with Rob McElhenny attending even more. When was the last time we saw Michael Eisner at Fratton Park? How often do we see Eric Eisner? It’s difficult to be particularly passionate about a project that’s halfway around the World that you never spend time with. Out of sight, out of mind?

And, finally, the biggest thing that Reynolds and McElhenny have done is exposure. There are more eyes on Wrexham than ever before and a huge part of that is the fantastic “Welcome to Wrexham” documentary. This has been hugely beneficial to the club, ensuring they get better partnerships, more merchandise sales, bigger pre-season tours (Wrexham are playing in America this summer against teams like Manchester United in sold-out venues). They’re making more money than some Championship teams and it’s all because of the exposure.

I’m not suggesting we copy-and-paste, but in our ownership group we have:

  1. Michael Eisner. The former CEO of Disney, one of the largest media companies on the planet, that will no doubt have some of the most incredible connections in the industry.
  2. Breck Eisner. A television and film director and executive producer.
  3. Eric Eisner. The Founder and CEO of an Academy Award and Grammy Nominated PRODUCTION COMPANY called Double E Productions

The group also have Tornante Television, which produced BoJack Horseman, and Tornante-Sinclair LLC. SURELY this group of people can produce a compelling documentary about Portsmouth Football Club that would help put more eyes on us? There are plenty of stories to tell, and from what the Eisner’s said at the time of purchase, live sport is the only live media around so why not lean into it?

 

To be clear, I am not anti-Eisner. Far from it, I think the work they’ve done with the Training Ground, Fratton refurbishments and overall financial investment into our club without creating debt has been incredible. There are far worse owners and I’m delighted that they are here. But I do think there are lessons that could be learned from Wrexham AFC, and I believe it’s perfectly reasonable for Pompey fans to look over the fence into their garden and get a little jealous of the cool Dad that dresses up as a Super Hero and buys really cool toys like Paul Mullin.

 

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