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Anatomy of a communications disaster


The announcement of the ESL was a huge own goal from a communications perspective

With the not so super, European Super League facing collapse days after it was announced, what are the most important lessons from this communications debacle? Here’s my list so far…

1. Know your stakeholders – the proposal of a league based on money, not merit, fundamentally misunderstood clubs’ #1 stakeholder. Fans love their clubs – they are loyal and passionate. But they love football even more – promotion and relegation included. Every good comms professional must be able to put themselves in the shoes (or indeed football boots) of their stakeholders. One of the rare academic PR terms I like is ‘boundary scanners’. That’s precisely what all communications professionals should be.

2. We need to stop calling people stakeholders! – the clubs’ statements featured the very worst corporate jargon, in stark contrast to the raw emotional statements by their fans. To what extent was geography and nationality a factor? Many of the clubs’ owners do not live in the same city or even country as the club’s core supporters. The words ‘think global, act local’ have perhaps never been so relevant.

3. Sorry seems to be the hardest word – how you apologise matters. Arsenal’s open letter to fans at five to midnight last night wasn’t perfect, but it was well crafted, acknowledging the mistake. Liverpool’s was truly awful, thanking “key stakeholders for their representations”. I was asked to write about this years ago for CEO magazine, and my advice is the same today as it was then. Every good apology shares the same four R’s:

Recognition: publicly recognising the gravity of the crisis Responsibility: leaders taking personal responsibility to manage the crisis Regret: expressing regret on behalf of the company Remedy: outlining the steps that the company is taking, and will continue to take, to redress the situation.

For the full article, please see here:

4. Rhetoric and reality – the statement by Florentino Perez, President of Real Madrid, that the ESL would “save football” was neither persuasive nor even plausible; it bordered on the pathetic. No good PR professional can be a yes-man/woman. This goes hand in hand with establishing credibility with the C-suite. What’s more, it just goes to show why it’s so important to have a strong communications voice at board level.

5. Make it SEO friendly – if you’re going to launch a flash website, make it visible. Try searching for “European Super League” and you’ll find it’s nowhere near page 1 on google. The website in question can be found here by the way. You might have to get clicking quickly as it could be gone soon!

6. Internal comms counts – players and managers were clearly not on board. Social media has changed the rules of the game. It didn’t take long before fans and footballers’ messaging were aligned. Some players such as Manchester United’s Luke Shaw shared heartfelt posts. They won the approval of legions of fans from rival clubs. A rare feat in football.

7. Investor relations counts too – you don’t enhance shareholder value by prioritising shareholders in such a glaringly obvious way above your customers or other stakeholders (Sorry! There’s that word again) for that matter.

8. Ajax kicks arse when it comes to social media. 

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