Max Brown – the rugby influencer paid better than the pros

Max Brown
Max Brown preferred to stay in the sixth tier rather than pursue a semi-professional career with a club - @gingerb_photography (Ben Whitehouse)

Max Brown embodies the exciting potential of rugby union, and yet also highlights its struggle to engage young fans.

The 22-year-old all-action wing plays for Walsall RFC in the sixth tier of the English club pyramid. He took up the sport in his mid-teens, giving up football because “I realised I could run into people and smash them and that it was legal.”

Brown briefly tested himself one league higher with Stourbridge, signing a contract that promised £100 per match plus travel expenses. However, the commitment became unsustainable, and he returned to Walsall to “be with my mates”. His day job, creating video content about life in the grass-roots game, was too time-consuming. Besides, a social media army of around 562,000 followers and subscribers help to net him “well over £100,000” a year from advertising and other avenues.

“Some brand sponsorships I’ve had have been high four-figure deals,” Brown explains, cracking into a grin. “It’s absolutely mental. I used to work part-time in a gym, where I’d earn £800 a month.”

According to the latest Premiership salary cap report, which focused on the 2021-22 season, the median wage of top-flight first-team players was £130,000. Brown has chatted to professionals who have been amazed at what an influencer can rake in. He confesses to being baffled himself sometimes.

“It’s literally my whole life,” says Brown, who has had a YouTube channel since the age of 12. “People will think ‘all you’re doing is filming and posting’. But it’s planning, editing, scheduling content. I use videographers and do the editing myself and I’m not stopping at 5pm. I’ll be thinking about it from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep and have been for years.”

At the time of writing, Brown boasts a touch under 189,000 YouTube subscribers. His Instagram shows 133,000 followers with his account on TikTok, a platform that suits short, consumable clips, on the cusp of 240,000 followers. Scroll through these and you will appreciate a cheeky character with a nose for shareable content. Many videos feature individual highlights captured by a personal cameraman.

“I’ll know during a game whether something is going to do well or not,” laughs Brown. “I’m thinking in the game ‘there’s a clip’! Steps, big hits or things that are fairly controversial have always done well. Whether people are enjoying it or people are calling me s--- and saying that I play in a farmers’ league – either way, it does well.”

There are comedy skits and coverage of club socials on Brown’s channels as well as fitness tips and insights into rehab. Other videos break down jargon in a relatable, amusing way. For instance, why do team-mates always tell their kicker to “make sure” when aiming for touch?

One of Brown’s viral efforts came from a thrashing of Droitwich a year ago. He had already bagged one try when he received a long pass out wide.

“I bumped off about four of their players to score and the ref called it back,” Brown says. “He gave me a yellow card for ‘charging with my forearm’, which I was shocked at. The tackler had gone high and I was upright but I got the yellow… which I was pretty pissed off about, to be honest.

“I knew on the pitch that it was going to make a controversial clip on TikTok and Instagram, so I posted it and asked people’s opinions. I also slowed it down to show it was a clean bump. It got a massive, massive response. It’s got about five million views across both channels with so many comments.”

If any of this seems self-indulgent, and at odds with the sport’s team-first, no-egos nature, Brown also produces 20-minute match summaries, or ‘vlogs’ for YouTube. His capitalised headlines, such as ‘79 POINT LOCAL DERBY GETS HEATED’, grab attention. Speaking from experience, his output absolutely encourages grass-roots retirees to wonder where their boots are. And these days, that feels extremely valuable.

Rugby union is grappling with how to entice ‘Gen Z’. A recent and sobering report from Ernst & Young suggested the sport had slipped way below the top 10 for engagement among that demographic.

Brown speaks with a strong Birmingham accent and is passionate about spreading the gospel by pushing it more in state schools. He admits that many friends would fail to name a current international and believes that the best players could change that by “portraying more personality on social media”. With boxing and mixed martial arts on the rise, Brown also agrees that rugby may have become apologetic over its major attraction.

“I really enjoyed the physical side, and how different that made it to other sports,” he remembers of his early days. “It was how it made me feel when I was playing; the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction you’d get from the game. It’s important because it’s what rugby is and why people watch it. It’s exciting, dangerous. I still sometimes wonder why more people don’t watch it.”

On YouTube and Instagram, Brown’s chief demographic is between 18 and 25. He has been recognised in Malta and Gibraltar and gets asked for autographs by teenagers whenever he attends England games or events such as February’s opening training session at Twickenham.

Louis Rees-Zammit was one new Instagram follower that caused Brown to reflect on his standing, while Dylan Hartley has reached out as well. This summer, having partnered with Harlequins and the Looseheadz charity, Brown hopes to stage a ‘creators’ game’ at the Twickenham Stoop between two teams packed with influencers, mirroring the immensely popular Sidemen initiative in football.

If the game becomes a launchpad for the sport, among the younger generation and beyond, Brown could become one of rugby’s defining figures.

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