The Super League: A PR disaster, or a disastrous idea?

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, including, amongst others, 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these proposals seem to have crumbled down just as dramatically as they built up: all six Premier League sides have withdrawn from the Super League, with many of the other teams involved are soon expected to follow suit. 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, had the organisers of the Super League and participating clubs pre-planned, employing better PR strategies to avoid such a sudden bombshell of news which had millions so angry?

I think we can all agree; to spend months, even years, planning a breakaway league with funding believed to have been as high as $5 billion, only for those plans to come crashing down within two days of the news being official, can be regarded as a major disaster. It’s possible that one of the main issues was the way the news was broken – almost everybody seemed to hear about it through a third-party source, or by word-of-mouth. None of the English clubs announced it officially, their social media feeds continued to post about menial topics as though nothing had changed, while they were being plagued with angered (to say the least) comments by betrayed fans and followers. It’s also highly likely that the proposals would have 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 their domestic leagues,’ on the Super League website. This included no explanation as to how this would be practical, given that top clubs are already complaining that there are too many games in a week.

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 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, the answer is no. However, there might have 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 or to answer to the backlash. On top of this, it seemed there were no answers to these questions in the first place – still nobody knows exactly what the Super League would have meant for domestic football. Would it have turned it into a playground of sorts for the ‘big six’ clubs to field youth/reserve teams whilst resting the first team for the midweek Super League fixtures? If so, this would have majorly questioned the integrity of these domestic leagues and ruined them for all the ‘non-supers’ who were still playing them as their main league. Had the organisers waited until they had properly negotiated the subtleties of the deal to announce the competition, there would have been more clarity, and 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 obviously unhappy at the prospect of the champions league losing out on up to twenty of the richest clubs in the world and all the monetary gain that comes with them. This led to UEFA (and FIFA) threatening to ban any individual taking part in the Super League from major future events, such as the Euros and the World Cup.

It’s been very interesting to see how poor PR, on top of an overall lack of communication altogether, is able to reverse a multi-billion-pound plan in just days. Regardless of the underlying reasons for this, with no planning and carefully considered communications plan, any form of controversial business decision is bound to be received badly even on smaller scales. 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 the sport of football, and as fan myself, it would have been very sad to see. That said, as a business venture, 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, to slowly release the news, and respond to all the backlash in a controlled manner. Instead what we got was a plethora of bad news delivered in a short space of time, being leaked through every sports journalist and news source imaginable… For the sake of football, let us just be thankful it didn’t come to fruition.

Picture by Daniel Norin on Unsplash.

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