Is there a role for PR professionals in football fan protests?

St. James' Park

Photo by Akuppa

On Saturday there was a funeral. A handful of Newcastle United supporters laid the name St. James’ Park to rest. Opinion was divided – some thought it was a great way to display discontent, others felt it was tasteless. While it was apparent that the unpopularity of the name change was almost universal, agreement on how to make these feelings known wasn’t.

Whereas clubs see fans as a homogeneous group who will be largely content when presented with a winning team, supporter trusts have to contend with the fact that outside the stadium this crowd is made up of a variety of publics who have entirely different expectations, especially regarding fan representation. It could be suggested the popularity of the Premier League contributed to this rift amongst supporters. “Going to the game” is now seen as a family event, with a mix of socio-economic groups rubbing shoulders in the stands. Moreover the importance of the crowd in general has altered, as the amount of money that comes in from other sources increases.

This poses an issue for supporter campaigns – not only are fans increasingly divided, but their concerns no longer carry the weight they once did. As a result movements are having to become better organised and more media savvy, much like the Love United Hate Glazer campaign. However there is only so much fans can achieve in their spare time and without proper PR skills.

Could we see a time in the future when supporter trusts actively use public relations agencies to further their cause? I’d be surprised if the idea hasn’t already been talked about. As it gets harder for fans to make their voices heard from the terraces hiring a PR agency will become increasingly attractive, especially if the only alternative way to get a message out there is by spending yet more cash on badges, banners and scarves.

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3 responses to “Is there a role for PR professionals in football fan protests?

  1. My worry about PR is that it can often get ‘the message’ across in a glossy and detached manner, whereas in fan protests raw emotion is generally what has the most impact. I think that kind of gloss and detachment (as well as higher prices) is what drives many away from the game/club.
    But quite often you get angry fans incoherently making fools of themselves at this sort of protest…

    In short, I haven’t a clue. Interesting thought.

    • That’s a fair point. There’s always the risk of turning fans off if things become a bit too slick, especially as many of those involved in these protest movements are of the old school.

      I do think that in terms of stakeholder management there’s a role for PR in these situations though. I’ve lost count of the number of campaigns that have started with huge support only to splinter after a few weeks/months because correctly or incorrectly supporters don’t believe their concerns are being heard.

      • I think you’re probably right – as an outsider I tend to thing of PR as a negative thing. But I suspose when it’s done well companies/groups just give the impression of being well run and being good communicators.

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