Tag Archives: Newcastle United

Head to head – Is content creation creating competition between clubs and the press?

After recent events at Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest and Port Vale you could be forgiven for thinking football clubs have lost the plot.

For a long time clubs and their local newspapers have been locked in a mutually beneficial if not always entirely comfortable relationship. The very definition of you scratch my back, I scratch yours.

However nowadays orders are being handed down from the boardroom to ban journalists for perceived indiscretions, no matter how minor, on an alarmingly regular basis. It’s easy to ascribe these decisions to touchy owners but could there be something beyond that which is straining the relationship between the two parties?

Nottingham Forest City Ground

Forest have limited the access that the media have to the club this season

While reports of the death of local media have been exaggerated it’s no secret that the landscape is changing. Budgets are being cut and newsrooms are shrinking. Compare that with football, where every new TV deal pumps yet more money into the game. The big sides have never been richer and they’re branching out. They’re creating content.

The club website is no longer just a portal for the latest injury news and match reports. Money is being invested in media teams. The ease at which video and audio can be produced has resulted in clubs launching their own online TV channels, streaming live commentary and producing their own apps to bring fans closer to the game.

Clubs are no longer reliant on traditional media channels to connect with supporters. Clubs can not only tell stakeholders what is going on but they can exert more control over their messages by cutting out the middle man.

Reacting to criticism about Nottingham Forest’s decision to limit the amount of access the local press has to the club, Media and Communications Manager Ben White said: “We have a media team of our own who are fully focused on keeping fans updated.” In other words, we don’t need the local press because we’re quite capable of telling the fans what’s happening ourselves.

I ask again, are these bans simply about punishing unruly hacks or are they about something more? Are they about competition?

If clubs turn content creators where does that leave the press?

The moment that clubs begin to produce their own content they come into conflict with the local press. They’re competing for readers and, more importantly, revenue. Traditional media outlets can draw supporters away from visiting official channels, thus depriving clubs of the opportunity to monetise these followers with cannily placed adverts for match tickets or the latest replica shirt. It’s no surprise that some owners feel charging journalists for access is the way forward.

In reality this battle is nothing new. Teams have long had designs on breaking into traditional media. The matchday programme is ever-present outside stadiums across the country, many clubs have attempted to produce their own magazines with varying degrees of success and some even have their own satellite TV channels  that cater for the most ardent fans.

None of these types of media are as pervasive, affordable or accessible as the internet and at no point in the past have regional media outlets been so vulnerable.

This is an opportunity that clubs will have to seize upon but as they turn content creators where does that leave the local football hack they’ve shown so much contempt for?

Banning journalists – what does it achieve?

This past weekend has brought news of football journalists finding themselves barred from doing their job.

Why?

For doing their job.

On Sunday after Newcastle’s defeat to Sunderland journalists from three local newspapers were stopped from asking questions of manager Alan Pardew.

The ban came about after coverage of a protest march in the Journal, the Chronicle and the Sunday Sun.

Coverage of Time 4 Change resulted in three local papers getting banned

This is nothing new. Sir Alex Ferguson dished out a number of bans to journalists and blanked the BBC for seven years, however more and more clubs are now seeking to strong-arm the press into censoring their own coverage.

The proliferation of this particular type of press control suggests that clubs must be reaping the rewards for hammering journalists whenever they step out of line, but is that really the case?

Newcastle United have previously banned the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph for their reporting. Neither newspaper has suffered or changed tact. The club and those in charge are still criticised when bad decisions are made.

Local newspapers have more pages to fill and as a result more to lose, however Newcastle United is not a particularly accessible football club even when you’re in their good books. Now the club have slammed the door in the face of NCJ Media they’ve given them free reign to go to town on them.

If they thought the coverage of the march was disproportionate they’re in for a shock.

So if banning journalists doesn’t work why go down the route of the playground bully.

Simple. They don’t know any better.

This is not an idea formulated by anyone in the club’s press office, or anyone with the most basic understanding of media relations for that matter. Wendy Taylor’s name may be on the bottom of the polemic fired out to the three publications in question, but I’d speculate that was the sum total of her involvement. Football clubs are autocratic institutions. Whatever the person at the top says goes.

In banning the local press Mike Ashley isn’t just showing a contempt for journalism but contempt for the club’s media team and demonstrating why once again Newcastle United are a living advert for employing someone with public relations expertise at a boardroom level.

Not that he’d listen to them.

Director of Football? Newcastle need a Director of Communications

So that’s that then. Joe Kinnear is Newcastle United’s new Director of Football and the word ‘crisis’ is yet again being chucked around to describe another episode of high farce that has unfolded on Tyneside. A fair assessment?

I’d say so. Not only is it a crisis, but it’s one completely of Newcastle United’s own making. Employing the unemployable is bad enough, and I’m sure there’ll be chapter and verse written on that subject by people far more qualified to comment than I, but the sound of silence has inflamed a delicate situation.

Nature abhors a vacuum. A statement should’ve been forthcoming the moment Joe Kinnear decided to go on national TV to talk about his new role. Instead the fans and press were left to pick over every line of the interview.

joe kinnear newcastle united

A carefully worded statement wouldn’t have solved all the club’s woes. They would’ve still been in full damage limitation mode. Kinnear isn’t the most polished interviewee the world of football has ever seen, nor does he care much for facts. His record at press conferences during his first stint at Newcastle United should’ve served as fair warning and it should’ve been made clear to him that he wasn’t to talk to the press a) until the club announced the appointment and b) he was then only to do so through official channels/with the express consent of the club. Considering Joe did neither we can only assume these instructions were not conveyed.

By late Monday evening, after Kinnear’s second baffling interview with a national media outlet it was apparent the club had lost complete control not over only the message, but the man who cannot be relied to stay on-message! There was little the club could do to placate supporters or pretend this hadn’t been anything other than an unmitigated disaster. On Tuesday lunchtime, almost 48 hours after Kinnear’s first interview, a short statement was released confirming the appointment. As far as denouements go it wasn’t a particularly satisfying one for Newcastle United’s support.

joe kinnear swearing

A press officer’s nightmare

It must be said that I do not believe any fault lies with the club’s media team for this disaster. None at all. It’s apparent they were hamstrung, I assume by the hierarchical structure in which they’re expected to work, and simply unable to say anything until they’d had word from on high. Considering the deal was apparently done on Sunday afternoon such a delay suggests to me a lack of understanding of the role of public relations from those in charge.

If clubs can learn anything from this sorry saga it’s that they desperately need PR knowledge and representation at boardroom level. At no point over the past few days has any one of the decision makers stopped to think how this would be received by the fans, how to announce this decision or even whether letting their own employee loose on the media would cause further woe. The individuals who had the expertise to at least attempt to deal with this situation, the employees who had began to build bridges with fans that have since had petrol and a lit match chucked on them, were left in the dark.

Director of Football? How about a Director of Communications?

How could Newcastle United take advantage of #ColosParty?

On Wednesday night, while most UK football fans were watching and tweeting about Chelsea’s last gasp victory over Benfica in the Europa League final, a small corner of the country was tweeting relentlessly about a house party in Ponteland.

When Sammy Ameobi posted pictures on his Instagram account showing Newcastle United’s squad enjoying a night in at the Coloccini residence it was always going to generate a stir. Fans started tweeting about the photos using the hashtag #ColosParty and it soon went viral in a huge way. By 11pm it was the top trending topic in the UK, surpassing any mention of Chelsea’s win in Amsterdam.

Colos Party

Sorry Rafa, but we’re top of the league

Some of the tweets were kind, some were cruel but almost all were relentlessly funny and perfectly encapsulated the power and imagination of social media savvy football fans.

These moments aren’t uncommon in themselves but they’re transient. It’s rare a club have such a perfect opportunity to take advantage a movement for PR purposes and build bridges with its support at the same time, so when I saw the popularity of #ColosParty I started to think about ways Newcastle United could do just that.

The most obvious (and laziest) way for NUFC to get in on the #ColosParty action would be to slap the hashtag onto its regular tweets. There’s one problem with this – hijacking hashtags is not popular and the number of adverts the club sends out on social media is the main bugbear of NUFC’s fans. The club wading in and throwing out 2 for 1 offers on NUFC branded shot glasses, affixing #ColosParty to the end of their tweets, would backfire.

It became clear that to exploit this opportunity to the fullest the club would have to look offline. One particular idea stood out to me:

Rename Shearer’s Bar.

Shearer's BarDon’t worry, I don’t mean permanently, just for the final day of the season. Call it Colo’s Bar and after the Arsenal match invite supporters to attend an event called #ColosParty.

This stunt would work for a number of reasons – it’s cheap, it’d be easy to organise even at such short notice and the story would be guaranteed to generate column inches across the local and national press in addition to chatter on social media. It would also give the club a chance to pay tribute to those supporters which made #ColosParty the most talked about topic on Twitter for a short while and act as an opportunity to celebrate the NUFC career of a very popular player.

What would the benefit for the club be? Well, it would increase footfall in Shearer’s Bar on the day of the match while reinforcing the bar’s identity as the premier NUFC themed venue in the city. Furthermore it would show Newcastle’s commitment to listening to supporters on social media channels which is something that the club has so far struggled to do.

So, does Colo’s Bar sound like a good idea? Let me know below.

Six solutions to Newcastle United’s Twitter problems

Earlier this week I published a post looking at the attitude of Newcastle United fans towards the club’s use of Twitter. The results didn’t make good reading.

The main criticisms included that the near constant stream of spammy links to the club shop made the feed unusable and there was an irritating lack of engagement with supporters. Questions went unanswered, comments ignored.

While I’m very good at it I don’t particularly like being the person who sits around criticising others without offering up some solutions, so I took a closer look at Newcastle’s Twitter problems and came up with a six ways they can improve on the status quo. Some are my own take on broad rules for social media use, others are very specific ways in which they could make immediate improvements. Let me know if you agree.

Newcastle United stadium St James' Park

1. Dialogue not monologue

Twitter is a conversational medium. Dialogue is the name of the game and as Ross Wigham recently wrote communicators need to come up with ways of “dealing with the new world of two way conversations”. This is something that seems to have been missed by the social media team at Newcastle United who use the platform to simply broadcast information. This would be a no-no for any organisation, let alone a football club that has an eager audience who are dying to interact. It’s simple – engagement with followers will increase satisfaction and further entrench the support of the thousands of brand advocates on Twitter who fly the flag for the club.

2. Question and answer

Newcastle United ticket for match against Deportivo la Coruna

Questions about ticket availability and prices are often asked

There are some relatively easy ways to engage these fans. I know from experience that the club is often posed questions about issues such as ticketing via social media, but little is communicated until an announcement is made on the official website. No one likes being ignored. Answering these simple questions would go a long way to improving relations with stakeholders. Even holding regular Q&A sessions so queries are concentrated during a particular period of time, which in turn would make them easier to field, would drastically improve engagement.

3. Ask more of those outside the club…

But it’s not all give, give, give. The club should take advantage of the creativity of the audience and begin to ask questions of supporters. Football fans love to share photos and videos that they believe will cement their credentials as a ‘true’ supporter. Being recognised for this dedication, either by a kind word or a simple retweet, by the very club they follow is the best type of peer recommendation. Not only are they being recognised by the one account that matters, but they’re being recommended to hundreds of thousands of other supporters.

Using Twitter as a conduit for collecting contributions from supporters regarding relatively trivial matters, such as the songs that should be on the DJs half time playlist or the design of a new kit, is another fantastic way to engender a feeling of ownership and show that their opinion has value while being extremely simple to do.

4. …And those employed by the club

Look inwards. Football clubs employ hundreds of people who work in a myriad of roles however many supporters don’t know much about what goes on day to day within the club. Why not hand control of the club account over to a different member of staff once a day every week? One week it could be the tea lady, the next it could be Yohan Cabaye? It generates a feeling of exclusivity by giving Twitter followers something fans offline will not be able to access. If an entire country can manage to do it then a football club can.

5. The right messages on the right platforms

I’m aware that all of this leaves very little time for promotion of the club shop, however I haven’t completely forgot about it. The fact of the matter is that Twitter isn’t a medium that’s particularly conducive to producing great sales leads when the plan is to spam, spam and spam some more. That’s not to say it should be avoided at all costs, but it should certainly be cut down on, particularly as there are platforms out there which would allow the club to push products while contributing to the conversation.

Pinterest screenshot

Put the club shop on Pinterest rather than pestering Twitter followers

One such platform, and it’s one that Newcastle United have no obviously official presence on, is Pinterest. Why not, like AS Roma, put the entire contents of the club shop on there? Link images back to the club shop so supporters can quickly and easily buy any products they want. Encourage users to repin items they like with a simple competition and watch as they promote the club’s products organically.

Newcastle United will have access to a huge number of photographs locked away in the bowels of St James’ Park that supporters would love to see. Tumblr is the perfect platform to showcase and sell prints of these images as Liverpool FC found out when they launched The Reds Gallery. Newcastle are already adept users of Flickr and the sharing of these galleries on Twitter was something which was commended by respondents in my earlier survey. As many of the same principles apply with Tumblr it feels like an opportunity is being missed.

6. Cross promote

Social media should not operate within a silo. It should be part of a wider strategy and be promoted across different channels to form a cohesive digital communications plan. This same rule  can be applied to specific social media platforms, which should be put to use promoting one another and mirroring each other’s messages.

Chris Hughton celebrating Newcastle United's promotion to the Premier League

Promotion is important in more ways than one

Take, for example, the Pinterest and Tumblr accounts that’ve just been mentioned. Cross promote these profiles successfully and make the over half a million people that Newcastle United reach directly, whether that be on Twitter or Facebook, aware these channels exist and uptake will be swift. Chances are if they follow you on one platform they’re likely to do so on another. And the benefit of having multiple profiles across different accounts? Access to different audiences and the ability to deliver the same message (tailored for the platform, of course) multiple times without appearing to spam the audience.

The bottom line

Few brands can boast an audience like sport clubs can. In the words of We Play, “sports fans are the most influential advocates in the world”. It’s a privileged position. For club’s like Newcastle United success on social media is an open goal and a poor digicomms plan is not a valid excuse for failing to capitalise.

Newcastle United fans have their say on club’s Twitter use

Newcastle United supporters – a passionate bunch

Luddites may disagree, but it’s pretty apparent that digital communications is now the front line when it comes to fan engagement for football clubs. The Premier League is a world wide brand and online means messages can be disseminated around the globe in an instant. Just look at the number of followers your typical Premier League side commands – many are well in excess of their average league attendance, with more supporters lurking elsewhere in the deep, dark bowels of the internet. It’s no real surprise that social media and how clubs use it to connect with stakeholders generates strong opinions from supporters.

Newcastle United have been using Twitter for a few years now and currently have around 200,000 followers, one of the largest numbers in the league. I asked supporters about the club’s use of the platform to find out whether they thought NUFC’s use of Twitter put them top of the table or that the club were involved in a basement battle.

Supporters were asked five simple questions – whether they followed the club, what they liked, what they disliked, what they wanted to see more of and what they wanted to see less of.

First off, of those fans who responded 25% didn’t officially ‘follow’ the official Twitter account. The main reason for this, mentioned by 61% of respondents, was the glut of marketing messages sent out by NUFC. It turns out that spammy and invasive tweeting will put off even the most ardent supporter.

@NUFCOfficial

This complaint was not simply restricted to those who have opted against following @NUFCOfficial. 84% of all respondents made reference to the use of the Twitter account as a vehicle for little more than adverts as one of their main dislikes of NUFC’s use of Twitter and it was a commented on frequently by those surveyed:

  • “Too many tweets about club shop offers”
  • “They just use it to sell stuff from the shop in the main. They never reply to genuine questions”
  • “The amount of tweets about selling items instead of news about the club”
  • Getting spammed by offers of merchandise from the club shop. The club shop should get a separate account”

Oh dear. It’s pretty apparent that the club’s policy of using Twitter to drive traffic and increase sales isn’t well liked and probably isn’t working either. 85% of fans said they wanted to see much less of it. But anyway, what about plus points?

To the surprise of no one, fans said they want to hear more about new signings.

When asked what they liked about the club’s Twitter almost 55% could muster an answer that wasn’t a variation on the word “nothing”. As you’d expect many of these responses focused on information that the club could publicise before anyone else, such as team line ups, signings and other breaking news:

  • “Team news on match day”
  • “Ticket announcements”
  • “Goal updates from matches are usually the quickest on Twitter”
  • “Picture galleries”

So it turns out there are a few redeeming features of the club’s Twitter use. However that cannot escape from the fact that the feeling among many supporters is that if engagement is the name of then game then the club’s presence is not fit for purpose. When pushed on what they’d like to see from the account an increase in interaction was at the top of the pile:

  • “More interaction with supporters. Better use of social media tools in general to connect with fans”
  • “Interaction with supporters. Greater innovation in terms of how it is used too. Twitter can be used for great things but Newcastle have not embraced it.”
  • “More interaction with fans”
  • “Fan engagement. A teeny tiny bit of opinion now and then and the odd exclusive signing pictures rather than having to pay for NUFC TV”

A nice, round 40% of respondents made some mention of increased engagement with supporters in some form or another. There was also a clear interest in more exclusive, behind the scenes content similar to Manchester City’s Inside City video series. Granted, that’s not strictly a comment on Twitter but it’s more proof that social media use must be coordinated cross platform.

I’ll leave the final word to one respondent who was pretty damning in his assessment of Newcastle’s use of the platform…

  • “They’ve totally missed the point of Twitter”

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up post in which I’ll explore the ways Newcastle United can improve their use of social media.

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.

Does it matter how Premier League football clubs use Twitter?

A lot has been written about footballers on Twitter, mainly due to the antics of one Joey Barton, but not much is said about how football clubs use the platform. In the Premier League 19 out of the 20 teams have an official Twitter presence (the name of club without an account may surprise you), all of which have very different styles of communicating.

Two of the better accounts are those of Sunderland and Wolves, where a mixture of news, insight into what goes on behind the scenes at the club and personable tweets make both an interesting read. At the other end of the spectrum there’s the spam approach, with Newcastle United being one of the biggest offenders. A riveting read if you’re a fan of offers on club-branded gear, not so much for those who want something a bit more substantial.

An example of Newcastle United's twitter spam

Sorry, if you want it in pink you'll have to look elsewhere...

But does the content matter? The stats suggest not. Newcastle have many more followers than either Sunderland or Wolves do despite the fact their stream is little more than a barrage of links. It seems fans will follow their club online regardless of whether their content is actually any good. But then that’s blind loyalty for you – what’s a poor Twitter presence to a supporter that travels around the country watching their team getting hammered?

So football teams don’t feel the need to innovate online like other brands because their audience will follow regardless, but that’s not to say that it’ll always be this way. The news that the Premier League are about to embark on a major social media drive indicates those within game are beginning to take digital comms more seriously. Will teams follow suit? It’s too early to tell, but I’d still like to know what you want to see from your club’s Twitter account? I’ll include best suggestions in a later post.

Why Mike Ashley could succeed in his attempt to rename St. James’ Park

Photo by Darrel Birkett

There’s been some debate over whether Newcastle United will be successful or not when it comes to selling the naming rights to St. James’ Park (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call it the Sports Direct Arena) in time for the 2012-13 season. Many who know better than me seem to think that Mike Ashley is on a hiding to nothing, but personally I can’t see the ground retaining the red and blue branding from long.

Some are rightly sceptical of the club’s assessment that the Sports Direct branding is only a stop gap until a company can stump up the requested sum. We’ve been told similar before, however there does seem to be a degree of logic behind this latest move. Any alteration to the St. James’ Park moniker was going to prove extremely controversial and cause a PR crisis for the first organisation that decided to become a title sponsor of the stadium. Renaming the ground the Sports Direct Arena until the end of the season doesn’t just provide Mike Ashley with free advertising, but it will take the sting out of any protests allowing the future sponsorship deal to be met with a smaller grumble of discontent than it would’ve been had there been no transitional period.

It seems to me that the key to success could lie with who the club is courting. If in two months’ time (when we’re told a decision needs to be made) there is still a large amount of negative publicity surrounding the name change then this will almost certainly put off companies who do the majority of their work within the United Kingdom. There are more obvious benefits for an organisation that has a presence in a variety of territories and is less likely to be negatively impacted by any coordinated boycott from Newcastle supporters. The Premier League is watched by over 600 million people worldwide and beamed to over 200 countries making it the most watched sporting league in the world. If the club can continue its good form and remain in a position where European football remains a real possibility then the chances of a sponsor being sourced must increase.

We’ll not know whether Newcastle’s venture into rebranding St. James’ Park has worked until late January at the earliest. Needless to say if they do manage to pull this one of it’ll prove that nothing is sacred in football and the floodgate for namechanges will be flung open.