Tom Brady’s Blues Birmingham’s relegation proves celebrity doesn’t guarantee success

Tom Brady was nowhere to be found as Birmingham City fell to the third division of English football. He was in Los Angeles the next day for Netflix’s The Roast of Tom Brady, a live TV special in which Bill Belichick, Kevin Hart, and others ripped into the seven-time Super Bowl champion.
“I see your soccer team got knocked down another tier in the English Football League,” Belichick, Brady’s former coach, remarked from the podium. “For those unfamiliar with English football, due to the complexities of their complicated regulation system, I’ll put it in English for you: they suck! Running a squad is not easy, is it, Tom?”

Whatever Brady’s inadequacies as Birmingham City’s minority owner, The Roast of Wayne Rooney would likely be more popular at St Andrew’s, considering the former England striker’s role in the club’s relegation. The Blues were sixth in the Championship until manager John Eustace was fired in October. Under Rooney, however, they collapsed, losing nine of fifteen games. He spent only 83 days in charge, and the club’s season never recovered, with their fate sealed on the penultimate day.

Few clubs would have hired Rooney given Birmingham’s circumstances. Eustace had the Blues on track, whilst Rooney had little experience as a manager in the Championship. The glamour of notoriety, however, proved alluring for an ownership group that

already had stars in its eyes after welcoming in Brady (the club, under different ownership, made a similar mistake in 2016 when they replaced the successful Gary Rowett with Gianfranco Zola, who went on to win just two of his 24 matches in charge).
Birmingham City aren’t the only English club with a celebrity owner. In fact, Blues’ relegation came on the same day news broke of Will Ferrell’s investment in Leeds United. The Anchorman star – who was a guest at Brady’s roast – joined Russell Crowe, Michael Phelps, former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and golfers Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas as an investor in 49ers Enterprises, the ownership group that invested in Leeds in 2018. Former NFL star JJ Watt is a co-owner of Burnley, who look set to slip out of the Premier League this season. Actor Michael B Jordan has a stake in Bournemouth. Then, of course, there’s Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney who bought Wrexham and turned the Welsh club into the subject of the wildly popular docuseries Welcome to Wrexham, which has just started its third series.

Tom Brady's Blues: Birmingham's relegation proves celebrity doesn't  guarantee success | Birmingham City | The Guardian

In Wrexham’s case, streaming numbers have accompanied back-to-back promotions, which means they will face Birmingham in League One next season. In other cases, though, glitz and glamour has not brought success. That is certainly true of Blues (in fairness to Brady, his ownership stake is reported to be just 5%, and it’s doubtful he makes day-to-day decisions at the club).

Of course, celebrity ownership isn’t anything new in English football. Sir Elton John was Watford owner for over a decade and achieved great success, taking the club from the fourth tier of English football to the top flight in just five seasons – Reynolds and McElhenney should take note. Delia Smith is still Norwich City’s joint majority shareholder.

Those owners, however, were fans of the clubs they ended up buying. They already had a connection to the local community. Now, soccer clubs are investment opportunities in a global marketplace. To a Hollywood celebrity, a stake in an EFL team is just another part of their portfolio which might also include a tequila company and a sneaker brand. The number of celebrity owners in English soccer has increased as the sport recognizes the significance of content. When that material is central to a larger strategy, celebrity ownership can make sense – there is some public relations in Welcome to Wrexham, but McElhenney and Reynolds are actively involved in running Wrexham, and there’s no doubt the club is better off since they took company. What, therefore, is Birmingham’s strategy with Brady as an owner, although having a smaller shareholding than McElhenney and Reynolds? What value does he bring to the table as a passive investor who may or may not turn up to sign autographs, kiss kids, or buy drinks once or twice a season?

Tom Brady brutally mocked over vow to 'achieve great things' despite Birmingham  relegation - Daily Star

“As Chairman of the Advisory Board, Brady will apply his extensive leadership experience and expertise across several components of the Club, including working alongside the sports science department to advise on health, nutrition, wellness, and recovery systems and programs,” Birmingham wrote in a statement when announcing Brady’s investment.

Is there any evidence of Brady’s wellness expertise on the pitch? Have strawberries been scrapped from the club cafeteria?

Tom Brady, Wayne Rooney and Birmingham relegation: How Blues are back in  League One despite off-field turnaround | All Football

While celebrity ownership works well in the US, where sport is generally considered part of the entertainment landscape, it’s a more awkward fit for English soccer. Clubs are so deeply rooted in their communities that the arrival of a new celebrity owner barely registers. Will Leeds sell more tickets now that Ferrell has a stake? Are fans meant to be so starstruck that they spend more money in the club shop? You shudder thinking about the ‘Stay Classy’ half-and-half scarves.
Cynically, it may be that some investment groups get celebrities to buy a stake in their clubs to give the impression of ambition without backing it up in a meaningful way. It is, after all, easier to email a pitch deck to an actor or NFL star than build out a strong front office and scouting network. Had Birmingham City done the latter, they may have stayed in the Championship.

Birmingham’s owners Knighthead Capital Management have made a stronger impression off the pitch than they have on it. The club has plans to build a new stadium and has already bought land for the project. This is on top of the renovation work done on Birmingham’s existing stadium, which was in a state of partial dereliction when the new owners arrived last summer. They’ve also invested in the club’s community charity that was left dormant under the previous ownership, helping underprivileged families in the area whether they’re Birmingham fans or potential supporters in the future.

“The bond that is forming between ownership and fanbase is already massive,” says We Are Birmingham podcast host Chris Goulding. “Despite once again dropping to the third tier, there are fans of most generations believing this is the most optimistic they’ve ever felt about our future.”

Many fans believe the club is headed in the right way in the long run, and Birmingham might follow in the footsteps of Ipswich Town, who advanced from League One to the Premier League in two seasons. And there’s no expectation that Brady’s excellence will have an impact on results.

“The shares really feel like just a token,” Goulding claims. “His engagement appears to be motivated mostly by his friendship with Tom Wagner.

It remains to be seen whether his sporting reputation will change in any significant way. I’m not sure he’ll be making too many visits to the club next season when we host Cambridge and Exeter, but you have to wonder if Wrexham’s visit will be a celebrity event.”

Regardless, Knighthead’s legacy will be determined by what happens on the field, and the New York-based investment fund is clearly off to a rocky start. While mistakes have been admitted – “we made one decision that if we could go back in time, we wouldn’t have made,” Wagner said of Eustace’s termination and Rooney’s hiring – they have nevertheless occurred. And it is far from certain that Birmingham will bounce back.

quickly. League One can be a quagmire for large clubs, as Portsmouth has discovered.
English football is going through a period. Stars will continue to invest in clubs. Ferrell will not be the last celebrity to participate. Boardrooms throughout the country are beginning to resemble late-night chat show sofas – or, in Birmingham, a Netflix roast. However, not every celebrity-owned club can be called Wrexham. Brady’s Birmingham’s relegation serves as evidence of this.


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