How not to mount a PR campaign - Stewart Arnold

As I mentioned to students on my Public Relations and Communications module at the university, it could be seen as a ‘happy accident’ that we have just witnessed the biggest PR disaster in years and one which will live long as a case study of how not to mount a campaign.

Stewart Arnold is a lecturer at the Hull University Business School.
Stewart Arnold is a lecturer at the Hull University Business School.

When football clubs announced their intention to set up a breakaway European Super League (ESL) the action was so badly handled, the question was asked whether there was even a PR company involved.

Apparently there was and, by coincidence, it was one that Boris Johnson knows well as it had previously helped him in his election campaign to become London Mayor.

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However, political advocacy is a long way removed from understanding football and, specifically, football fans.

There’s not a lot that gets football fans of different clubs united with one voice but on this issue they were.

The plans were met with instant condemnation as fans, pundits, former players, politicians and even the Royal Family voiced their opposition.

Given this criticism, it was little surprise that a climbdown by the so-called ‘Big Six’ clubs involved began within a few days.

There were lots of apologies from the clubs involved and from JP Morgan Bank which was going to underwrite the initial investment in the ESL.

In their statement, the bank said: “We clearly misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community and how it might impact them in the future.”

Despite the handwringing from the clubs and others involved, there is still so much rancour that there have been calls for these clubs to be penalised in some way.

If not a points deduction then some other punitive action. Richard Scudamore, former Premier League executive chairman, has said there needs to be ‘consequences’ for the clubs involved in the failed ESL.

In a seemingly separate move, executives at those clubs involved have been forced to resign from advisory roles at the Premier League.

There is an alternative view to this apparent PR disaster which is along the lines that this was deliberately set out the way it was. Some say this was a deliberate move from the major European clubs.

Given the way the Champions League is to be expanded and revised, it was a little reminder to UEFA, the theory goes, that these clubs believe they have a right to a bigger part of the pot of money.

The reaction to the plan though was so overwhelmingly negative that this idea is flawed.

The abrupt action of the clubs last week proves that the best PR is a two-way process. Given that football has so many stakeholders looking to protect the game, not to bring them along in that process meant the idea of an ESL was doomed.

Any plans to change the game in the future must include meaningful dialogue.

Stewart Arnold is a lecturer at the Hull University Business School


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