My thoughts from The Drum earlier this week on why football is so bad at PR.
The Ched Evans #fail juggernaut rumbles on. This negative fallout reframes football, sucking the hapless into its black hole. The whole affair suggests there is something rotten at the heart of the enterprise. Sadly, the idiot Evans’ hubristic soap opera is just another of a series of scandals that have put football on the front pages this season.
Football is big business. The analysts at Deloitte reported the Premier League clubs’ revenues broke the £3bn mark in the recent 2013-14 season. Sponsor TV companies fight for rights and yet at the heart of the apple the core is rotten. The question is, does it really matter?
Football is light years away from its working class roots. The field of dreams rewards are founded on winning, less about achievement and purpose and more about exploiting the transient financial moment. The heroes inhabit a curious professional environment. Victory is all. For the uninitiated, understanding the chop-logic is like groping through a series of coded signifiers of utter stupidity.
The question around them isn’t “how do we progress as human beings?”
It’s “where is the money?” And whenever money is the motive, problems arise.
Football has an image problem: it struggles to deal with homophobia, race issues and sexism, which is hardly the benchmark for a more beautiful game. Some understand the privilege.
Nevertheless, those on the sidelines exploit potential and pedal hope to young sportsmen. What’s required is to back that up with a dose of reality, perspective and clever thoughtful advice. When the stack falls it falls hard – PR catastrophe. When the young hopeful fails to deliver the prize is discarded. Who wants to ask the difficult questions only to lose the grip on tomorrow’s Lionel Messi? This is business after all. The risks are too great to disrupt a fledgling relationship. Capture them for 10 years at the top and then then who cares what happens after that? The now is all.
In football, fame, margins and super profit have become the mantras that often emasculate reality. Who really manages the image? It’s also about a closed shop. Letting anyone in disables the ring of influence. Keep it simple.
The importance of cash in the game has created a complex assortment of social and moral influences yet to be addressed. Until this happens the game is likely to stumble into further PR fails because of the folk it attracts to exploit the commercial aspect. Critics have suggested for many years there are too many parasites who make players greedy and destroy club loyalty.
Footballers play football because they love the game. Yet gone is the cliché of the Corinthian spirit that rose from its working class roots, replaced by a romanticised notion that football will make you rich and famous. And untouchable.
So who advises? For a little knowledge of PR is a very dangerous thing.
Little investment is made in outsiders. Footballers tend to trust their own. Some get it right but far more don’t and prefer to be advised by their mate down the pub or a local family lawyer. Clubs and players rarely reach out for standalone help. Few know how to help football cut through the hubris and the noise from an uncontrollable herd.
Reputation is a major currency in an age where the internet makes the crowd the commentators, and this requires a long-term understanding and not a short-term grab for the toxic fame of celebrity.
The national fabric of football is now colonised by a middle-class establishment – a free-for-all chaos studiously policed by a vigilant bourgeoisie and complicated by the social herd. Those like Beckham, who was the metaphorical pot of gold, were able to surround themselves with the best and survive the turmoils unscathed while still building a brand and a future for themselves. But the big money doesn’t extend to the majority; those wages are captured by a few which means clubs must invest in properly protecting their players and giving them a future.
This is the face and voice of British football that seems constant. There is a lack of imagination around the people inside the governing bodies, a failure to grasp behaviour and how that extends beyond the pitch or the bankroll – dangerous when a middle class media has colonised the ongoing commentary.
Impartial advice is now a must to stop the rot. It’s better to hear the truth and act accordingly, than seek advice that tells you what you want to hear.
Ultimately players want to win and are desperate to succeed on the field of play.
Football is not a romantic ideal just as the X-Factor is not about a career in music. It’s about the status of celebrity success and as such it cannot be a moral activity.
Yet the trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
‘At the end of the day’ the passionate fans care little for common ideas of social responsibility and role models. The only thing that matters is sitting on top of the league and the bragging rights victory brings. High order conversations are for the left leaning ‘wet liberals’ who don’t know a bleeding thing.