Crawley Town's crypto owner Hunter Orrell gets candid on the reality of running a club

Crawley Town's crypto owner Hunter Orrell gets candid on the reality of running a club
The Sidemen join Crawley Town FC training.mp4
Crawley Town FC

Coming up to the one-year anniversary of their takeover of Crawley Town FC, WAGMI United are in the midst of a transformation to drive the football club forward, and keep generations of fans engaged in the beautiful game.

WAGMI (which stands for ‘we’re all gonna make it’) is a term often used in Web3 communities and is composed of 30 investors and Crypto buffs who banded together to save the league two clubs for an estimated $20 million.

While Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s takeover of Wrexham made headlines for their unconventional route, this could be the first time we’ve seen Web3 make a real splash in the game.

Members of the group include social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, along with Preston Johnson, Ethan Beard, Eben Smith, and Hunter Orrell.

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Hunter in particular, a twenty-something Maryland native, who fell into good fortune after dipping his toe into the crypto community just two years ago, has been at the forefront of breathing new life into the club, immersing himself in what it means to be a Crawley fan, despite leaping over to the UK from the other side of the pond. He now splits his time between the club, London, and Los Angeles.

However, his background isn’t too dissimilar than someone from the West Sussex town, and even at the start of 2022 he couldn’t have foreshadowed what was to come.

“I was in an airport lounge with two of my best friends from college, and one of them happened to bring up the topic of crypto and that conversation sparked pretty much everything that's happened for the last two years in my life,” he said of how he got started in the Metaverse.

But while big business transactions usually involve boardrooms and suits, Hunter insists that he got asked if he wanted to be involved via text. And as far as the profitability of the club goes, he insists it was never a money-first decision, but one based on his love of football.

“I wrote the check and it was a huge investment for me. I just remember being like this is purely emotional. This is purely passion,” he adds.

“Football was something that I played since I could walk… the earliest photos of me as a baby are holding a football.”

“I'm still an entrepreneur. I'm still a businessman. If we look at this as a media company and like a global brand, we’re able to interact with people aged eight to 21 in a unique way that offers new revenue streams.

“Implementing Web3 and crypto NFTs in a unique way is something no other club does.”Craw

Crawley Town FC stadiumCrawley Town FC stadium

For now, they’re running the club as usual, and haven’t made too many drastic changes in order to keep fans happy. However, in July they introduced the idea of Web3 into football by launching exclusive NFTs which would allow supporters access to voting rights on club decisions, merchandise, and digital content. Surprisingly, the pitch went down a treat and over 9,000 were sold at just over £350 each.

Not only that, but a recent partnership with internet stars The Sidemen raised eyebrows, when it was announced that three of their stars would be joining Crawley FC at training for ‘evaluation’ for ‘The Red Devils’ recent FA Cup match against Accrington Stanley.

Tobi “TBJZL” Brown, as well as his brothers, Manny Brown and Jed Brown, were ready to make their professional debut - but none of them ended up playing in the match, which the club lost 4-1, much to the relief of life-long Crawley fans who worry that its new owners aren’t taking it seriously.

“Tobi has always been my favourite [Sidemen member]... I think he's one of my favourite people I've ever met honestly,” says Orrell.

“He and his brothers are the nicest humans and I really hope that everybody gets a chance to meet them and interact with them because they've been nothing but selfless.

“I care quite a bit about my TikTok presence and showing what's happening with the team, so it really just turned into alright, let's see what happens, Toby presented himself as the best candidate…and he’s 100 per cent a good footballer!”

“They justifiably should have been there and had a chance to to be involved with the team. I don't view it as a publicity stunt, I think it made a lot of sense for everybody involved and we’re always making sure that it's adding value to our brand and adding value to their brands.”

Hunter attends games when he can

One thing most game attendees will quickly realise about Hunter is that he’s one of them. Despite his success and status at the club, you’ll often find him in the stands rain-or-shine, interacting with fans, sipping a beer, and taking photos.

“Fans are ultimately one of the most powerful voices within any football club”, he insists.

“Crawley and the people I've met there, I absolutely love. It’s such an old club and an interesting history of wins and losses, and ups and downs.

“They just absolutely care so much about this club and I just don't see any other city or town where we could have come in and been as intimate with the fans.”

Hunter’s optimism is admirable following a less-than-welcome reception from those who had grown up with the team, as news of WAGMI’s takeover emerged on 7 April 2022.

People weren’t happy that Americans with little-to-no relation to Crawley as an area would soon be making game-changing decisions on their club. He recalled the anxiety of the day:

“The second the news got announced, I just sat there and my notifications on Twitter were going off. Immediately I noticed my DMs start to fill up and I spent an hour going to Google and looking up slang words, just trying to understand what I've been called.

“I literally have been called everything since that first day and being from the industry I'm from they're like, ‘oh my god our clubs over this is you're gonna ruin it’. It hurt a lot because I love this industry.

“It’s like no, we love what you love. We both have the same intentions here. I think that has ultimately eliminated a tonne of the concerns for what we want to do with Crawley.”

Despite crypto and Web3 creating the ‘fear of the unknown’ in the world of football, WAGMI aren’t looking to change the game, just create even better experiences and lasting connections with supporters - and Hunter insists that it could even translate into how they play.

“I'd go to the extent and say, football clubs, whatever league they’re in, they need to look at ways to do what we're doing and having a digital presence, whether that is an NFT or collectible or you know, or even FIFA unique activation.

“You'll see smaller clubs who take that riskier bet on the creator economy will not only take market share and the attention economy, but they can convert that into money that allows them to hire better players, better infrastructure, and that will let them be more competitive in their leagues and get promoted.”

But for now, the club sits at 18th in League Two (as of 16 November), and a mid-season switch of management staff with Lewis Young (brother of former England star Ashley Young) stepping in as interim boss at the last second has left fans wondering whether this will be a season to forget.

Hunter even recalls sitting alone on some stairs at Doncaster train station after losing a critical away game in the pouring rain, and realising something had to change.

“You know, I really liked Kevin [Betsy], he has an amazing talent. I know I'm gonna p**s people off as well by saying this, I don't think the results on the table reflect his coaching ability,” Hunter tells Indy100.

“I think it’s a very unique situation where we made a lot of changes and I think any coach would have been tried in that position.”

However, despite the ups and downs of ownership so far, he’s confident that the future is bright for the Red Devils, and is eager to prove himself as an asset to the club - and proving that crypto is more than just the Metaverse.

“With a lot of the people putting doubt on the players there is this ‘No, I'm gonna prove you wrong’ mentality that has erupted within the locker room,” he says.

“Everybody's playing with a chip on their shoulder, and they're going out there every day trying to prove to every single fan, every single hater, and every single internet troll that we’re here to play…and win.”

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