Football’s controversial European Super League has highlighted the importance of strategic communication at the heart of the decision-making process.
While no amount of PR would have completely swayed people’s opinions about the new league, which has been widely condemned by fans and pundits alongside former players and managers, it may have helped dampen the backlash.
Public relations is the conscience of a brand, taking into account the context of any decisions or changes and how this may be viewed by key stakeholders to protect reputations.
Any key messages such as why the league is being formed and how it may benefit the sport were shared too late.
They have been buried under mountains of strong criticism by influential individuals such as Gary Neville, Boris Johnson and Prince William, as well as stark warnings from the likes of UEFA and FIFA about ramifications for the breakaway teams.
Very much like in a planning application, the time to communicate positive messages, set the scene and explain details is at the outset.
For example, Florentino Perez, president at Spanish side Real Madrid, one of the founding members, has since said the league is part of plans to tackle the problem of ‘young people no longer being interested’ in football.
He added that both audiences and TV rights deals were decreasing, and that something had to be actioned to ‘save football at this critical moment’.
Adding new formats of a sport to attract a new, often younger, audience is nothing new. To run alongside its traditional county competition, cricket has introduced one-day and T20, with yet another new format, The Hundred, set to debut this year.
Tennis is also exploring alternative tournaments, with the Ultimate Tennis Showdown trialled last year in France.
There is no wave of rebuttal or denial that the new generation of supporters are not as engaged in watching the sport as their parents, and that perhaps action is required.
However, against a backdrop of a global pandemic and a failure to kick racism out of the sport, the initial announcement of the European Super League, whether it’s the best solution or not, was clearly poorly communicated.
PR is not just about saying the right thing: your reputation is also formed by what you do.
Therefore, the spotlight is also on the likes of the FA, UEFA and FIFA. As Leeds striker Patrick Bamford said on Monday night following his team’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, another of the 12 founding members: “It is amazing the uproar [about the Super League] that comes into the game when someone’s pocket is being hurt. It is a shame it isn’t like that with other things going wrong at the minute, like racism.”