The ESL debacle has lessons for all industries when it comes to communicating major changes.
It’s hard to believe this announcement wasn’t weeks or months in the making so why did it all go wrong? The answer has to be the lack of joined-up thinking and planning – plus overlooking the strength of opposition from the fans to the £3billion proposals.
Given the obvious media interest, it’s clear announcing plans for a new league simultaneously across the UK, Spain and Italy – and with owners in the US and UAE – can’t have been easy. However, the reaction should have been planned for. What’s happened is that from the kick-off the ESL quickly lost control of the game and scored a media own goal of epic proportions.
With any announcement – large or small – you need to prepare, know your audience and consider the questions you’re likely to be asked. Equally, you must think about the likely reaction of the media and public, have follow-up statements prepared, and be proactive.
Briefing stakeholders, those likely to be asked for a comment, is vital. We hear the ESL failed to inform their sport’s key governing bodies, as well as their employees and players. The media quickly seized on this, focusing on the perception of arrogance, selfishness and greed.
Further to this, a failure to understand the fans meant the ESL’s game was lost before getting on the pitch. Football – for the fans – is not about money, it’s about tribal rivalries, the performance of the players and their allegiance to the club’s colours. Fans don’t choose whom we support, our club chooses us, it’s primeval.
Announcing it on a Sunday evening after the weekend’s matches, rather than Monday, looked like there was something to hide. Always take into account how the timing of announcements and how something will be perceived in order to avoid accusations of lacking transparency.
In announcing ESL, the billionaire club owners sought to suggest their rationale was so they could “offset the impact” of the pandemic on their clubs. This was crass and uncaring, and immediately lost them the argument among fans and the wider public.
Messages in any announcement must be clear and consistent, but more importantly they must resonate with the audience and demonstrate trust and honesty.
Given the magnitude and disruption of the announcement, having a briefed spokesperson was essential, someone able to handle the difficult questions aimed at them. It needed someone credible who could connect with the audience. However, no lover of the beautiful game would have sacrificed their hard-earned reputation on the goal line of footballing greed.
It appears none of the six English clubs chose to put up a spokesperson. They collectively hid behind the written statement and hunkered down in the directors’ box, hoping it would all go away. Or if they did try, it was too little, too late, and they were drowned out by all the other commentary.
If a team goes two-nil down a manager instinctively reacts and brings on a substitute, or two. In this case the ESL appears to have simply sat there and done nothing.
Pundits like Gary Neville were asked for their opinion and piled in. The result was to bring together normally opposing fans of the six English clubs, along with the footballing family, to call out the owners.
In the absence of a spokesperson, the media then put managers – including Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and players – in the spotlight, seeking their reaction and creating a potentially difficult position for them with fans and their employers.
The clubs, each with their local and global fan base, must swiftly get their communications in order if they are to avoid being tainted with the apparent greed of their billionaire owners.
The six English clubs have each been damaged reputationally. However, it can be turned around and we all know football is a game of two halves. Fans can forgive poor performances on the pitch but have little love for their billionaire owners. We must expect changes around the boardroom table as a result of this debacle.
The billionaire owners seem to have seen little wrong with their ESL proposals, and it still appears they are planning to press ahead with their plans, despite the protestations of politicians announcing they will do everything they can do to stop it. What’s needed is contrition and an apology before efforts to rebuild the shattered trust.
The team at Maxim is always happy to help clients win when it comes to making important announcements. If you have news to share – controversial or otherwise – contact us and we’ll help you to get the message out.
posted in: public relations, reputation management,