We’ve all heard about this PR Disaster by now: the proposed plan to establish a new mid-week footballing competition governed by twelve founding clubs. This includes giants such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, and Manchester City. Also sneaking in on the plans were clubs like Arsenal, Tottenham and AC Milan who, despite each having respectable and prosperous histories (some more than others), are evidently involved for the financial aspect they bring to the table. Arsenal have been seen as a laughing stock by many since the ‘invincibles’ era (so for around seventeen years), Tottenham have just two major honours in the last 20 years, both being league cup successes, and Milan are without a trophy since 2016!
Thankfully, these proposals seem to have crumbled down just as dramatically as they built up; all six Premier League sides have withdrawn from the Super League, with many other teams involved soon expected to follow. The idea that one of the oldest sports in history, and the most-viewed sport in the world, is being commercialised and turned into some form of elitist group at the top is infuriating for most fans of sport in general. But could this reaction have been avoided, or at least negated? The organisers of the Super League could’ve pre-planned, employing better PR strategies to avoid such a controversial news bombshell. This PR disaster could easily have been avoided.
I think we can all agree; spending months, years, planning a breakaway league with funding as high as $5 billion, only for those plans to dissolve within days of the news breaking, can be regarded as a major disaster. One key issue was likely in the way the news was broken – everybody seemed to hear about it through a third-party, or by word-of-mouth. No English clubs announced it officially, their social media feeds continued to post about menial topics as though nothing had changed, meanwhile being plagued with angered comments by betrayed fans. The proposals also likely would’ve been much better received had there been more clarity on what it would mean for the domestic leagues, other than the offhand mention that ‘all clubs will remain in domestic leagues,’ on the Super League website. Including no explanation addressing practicality, and how it would fit into already busy schedules.
The question is, could this have ever been received well? Even to those with a limited knowledge of football, it’s clear that it goes against all values of the beautiful game. Prioritising wealth over fans is wrong. Is there really any good way to tell some of the most dedicated people on the planet that the whole infrastructure of the game they love is not only changing, but in a way that removes the ultimate competitive aspect from the sport which drives fans around the world to support and follow?
In short, no. However, there might’ve been ways to ‘soften the blow’… From a PR perspective, there was no clear spokesperson for either the Super League itself, or any participating clubs. Dealing with fans’ concerns promptly or answering to the backlash might’ve helped to reduce anger. It also seemed there were no answers to the big questions in the first place – still nobody knows exactly what the Super League would have meant for domestic football. Would it have become a playground for ‘big six’ clubs to field reserves, resting the first team for midweek fixtures? If so, the integrity of domestic football would’ve been majorly questioned. Potentially ruining the league for all the ‘non-supers’ who were still playing them as their main league. Had they waited to negotiate the subtleties of the deal before going public, there would’ve been more clarity, less anger.
There were other footballing organisations who also should have been made aware of the plans and negotiated with in advance. For example, UEFA were unhappy about the champions league losing the custom of twenty of the richest clubs worldwide. I wonder why? This led to UEFA (and FIFA) threatening to ban anybody taking part in the Super League from major future events! This includes the Euros and the World Cup.
It’s been very interesting to see how a PR disaster is able to reverse a multi-billion-pound plan in just days. Any controversial business decision is bound to be received badly on any scale without a carefully considered communications plan. This scenario indicates just how important effective PR can be in delivering an idea to the masses. At least they’ve shown us all how not to do it!
The Super League would have been disastrous for football, as a fan, it would’ve been very sad to see. That said, as a business idea, it had every chance of working out, massively profiting all involved. All that was needed for it to stand a better chance was some smart PR planning. Slowly releasing the news, and responding to the backlash in a controlled manner. Instead what we got was a plethora of bad news delivered in a short space of time. News which was leaked through every sports journalist and news source imaginable… Definitely a PR Disaster. For the sake of football, let’s just be thankful it didn’t come to fruition.