As a follower of football you will be aware of the swirl of media stories and rumours around the game, many of which have a direct impact on the business affairs of a club.
The power of the football media cannot be underestimated. For example, the debate about goal-line technology has been largely media driven and it has now come to fruition, with the rules adjusted to take account of its use. In addition, the use of former professional footballers as pundits ensures that football media is seen as a trusted source of news and views by fans.
From the point of view of the club, these stories do not have to be negative and clubs can leverage the news cycle for their own benefit.
Much of the business of football clubs centres on the transfer of players in and out. To the uninitiated, transfer news and rumours can seem never ending and the availability of social media has only led to an increase in transfer gossip. From the perspective of a club, a transfer story can have a positive or negative impact. Obviously, if a star player wants to leave a club then it can have a negative impact on that club’s reputation, but social media platforms have given clubs a greater sense of control over the news process. This allows them to clarify or refute stories that have appeared elsewhere and to get the club’s side of the story out to followers as quickly as possible. A big advantage of social media is that its reach is global, so a good news story from a football club can spread to fans all over the world immediately.
If a club is experiencing turbulent times then moving quickly to control the news process and project a more positive image can help calm the storm. Take the recent example of José Mourinho’s appointment as Manchester United manager. The departure of one manager and his replacement with another can be a source of instability. In Manchester United’s case, Mourinho is their third new manager in as many years, so fans and media alike were left wondering what direction the club would take next. The club’s hierarchy moving quickly to replace outgoing manager Louis Van Gaal with Mourinho allowed them to exert a certain degree of control on the way in which the changeover was portrayed in the media, with the focus being on the Portuguese manager’s arrival at Old Trafford and what he would bring to the club.
When Liverpool F.C. was sold to Fenway Sports Group in October 2010, the new owners were quick to counteract the negativity surrounding the club after a protracted takeover process and the poor reputation the previous owners had acquired among fans. Head of Fenway, John W. Henry, spoke immediately of how humbled he felt in acquiring a club of such stature and committed himself to acting more as a steward rather than as an owner. The assurances offered to fans undoubtedly helped the club portray a more settled and stable image from the start of Fenway Group’s ownership and within three years Liverpool were challenging for the Premier League title, ultimately finishing second but winning huge praise for their performances in the process.
The impact of media stories has become much greater with the advent of a 24-hours news cycle. At one time, it was possible to at least try to limit a story’s spread, but the availability of digital platforms means news stories are at people’s fingertips 24-hours a day. Take the example of Dermot Murnaghan, whose weekly show on Sky News breaks major stories. Featuring interviews with leading figures from politics, sport and business, Murnaghan on Sky News sets an agenda for stories across the week, with online and social media platforms ensuring that what gets covered on the programme remains in the news.
Football and the affairs of football clubs have become big news. As the game continues to grow, clubs will continue to find themselves in the spotlight, scrutinized by media and fans alike. Unfortunately for football clubs, there is a considerable degree of sensationalism surrounding football stories and the language used can create a negative impression for particular clubs caught up in the spotlight. In one sense, this sensationalism cannot be avoided – there is a show business element to the modern game and football is, after all, a form of entertainment. However, the availability of digital media platforms in particular has given football clubs the opportunity to shape and affect the news too, promoting a positive image of a club and its business affairs.