Image Credit : givemesport.com
Guest author: Brian Clifford, Public Relations Graduate.
The proposed plan for a European Super League was a PR disaster from the very moment the story broke. In order to understand why it was such a disaster from a PR point we must look at how the story became public knowledge, the reaction of those in charge from a PR perspective, how the fans reacted and why they reacted that way.
Journalists break the story.
On Saturday the 18th of April Martyn Ziegler published a story in the UK’s Times newspaper detailing how some Premier League clubs were about to join a European Super League. Details soon emerged that, “AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Athletico de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as Founding Clubs”. Within hours the coverage from pundits on Sky Sports and BBC dominated the story of the European Super League. One such pundit was Gary Neville who gave an outraged interview on Sky Sports in which he demanded punishment for all English clubs involved. The proposed European Super League plan was presented to the general public by journalists and pundits initially, and not by PR representatives from the project or the clubs involved. This meant that the narrative surrounding the plan was out of the control of those involved from the very beginning. From this lack of control the narrative was dominated by journalists and pundits who strongly opposed the idea.
Managers and Players unaware of the plan.
From this point on, the clubs continued to fail in terms of PR for the competition. Statements released by Joel Glazer (the co-chairman of Manchester United), vice chairman of the European Super League and Andrea Agnelli (chairman of Juventus), vice chairman of the Super League, attempted to convey that the decision was in the best interest of the world of football. Florentino Perez (president of Real Madrid CF), the president of the Super League stated, “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world”. Although this was an attempt to speak to the fans of football it was too late and unconvincing as managers and players such as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and player James Milner openly spoke of how they were unaware of the European Super League and condemned the proposed plan. The managers and players have a far stronger connection with football fans and without them on board there was no hope to get fans on board.
Due to these PR failures fans reacted poorly. The fans saw the move as being greedy and not for the benefit of the sport. A survey done in April 2021 in the UK showed 89% of fans believed the plan was for financial gain while 11% saw it as a move to benefit football. The lack of trust from the key audience for the Super League and its clubs meant the Super League was doomed, leading to clubs pulling out and issuing apologies to their fans.
From the conception of the plan for the European Super League there was difficulty as the League did not reflect the traditions of European sport. It tried to treat clubs like franchises rather than a part of the history of the areas they were in. The League’s key publics, the media and the fans were never going to be on board especially due to how the story was broken and lack of support or cohesion with the clubs’ representation. The narrative was never in the control of those in charge of the plan and was, as a result, a PR failure that led to the collapse of the plan.