Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Run that past me again?!?

Posted by John Beech on December 3, 2010

As someone whose heart wanted England to get the 2018 World Cup, but whose head didn’t (in a nutshell, and amongst a number of reasons, we can’t afford it) I naturally had mixed feelings about our failure to win today.  ‘Failure to win’ is of course a massive understatement.  We presumably only attracted one vote from the other 21 FIFA Exco members.

FIFA, not known for its transparency, provides few metrics in its evaluation reports (available here).  They do however give a range of ratings related to risk.  Perhaps we had submitted a bid that was too risky.  Well, have a look for yourself:

Government documents
Government guarantees Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Contractual documents
Hosting agreement Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Host city arrangements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Stadium agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Training city agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Confirmation agreements Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Overall legal risks Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Stadium construction Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Stadium operations Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk
Team facilities Low risk Low risk Medium risk Low risk High risk
Competition-related events Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Airports and international connections Low risk Low risk Low risk High risk risk Medium risk
Ground transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Host city transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
General accommodation Medium risk Medium risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
International Broadcast Centre Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Round 1 2 4 7 9 11
Round 2 2 7 13 10
Round 3 11
Round 4 14

The rating of ‘High risk’ occurs only three times in all the ratings for 2018 and 2022 contenders – twice for Qatar and once for Russia.

It would seem that, far from being risk averse, the FIFA Exco members favoured risky bids!

Of course, I’m falling into that old trap of assuming that they behaved and voted in a rational way.

So, if it wasn’t content that wooed them, perhaps it might have been style.  No metrics here, but my impression was that we had come to the party with just the right blend of banalities and photogenic children that had worked so well in Singapore.  Certainly our effort was no more nor less vomit-inducing than the oppositions’.  Certainly it was no less contrived.

Inevitably we come back to the process of selection as the root cause of England’s failure.  We didn’t jump through the right hoops.  We didn’t pound the ground or press the flesh hard enough.  We trusted Jack Warner.  We were naïve.  The core question is which of those are things we should not be happy with.

As we wake up the next morning, sadly free of the anticipated hangover, criticism continues to focus on the role of our media.  It was Panorama and The Sunday Times wot dunnit.  Whether it was or wasn’t will be endlessly debated, but that misses the point.  Having a free press with a healthy body of investigative journalists who are happy to point out that the emperor has no clothes is something we should celebrate rather than lament surely, even if we don’t like the outcomes.  There is a need to distinguish between the process of selection and the outcomes of that process.

As for the outcomes, there could have been (from all the countries in the world) far worse choices than Russia.  Have a look at this clip of their plans for stadiums.  Mind you, it would hard to find a less appropriate choice than Qatar to be the host of football’s crowning glory.  I’m sure many a fellow academic is already planning their research on the socio-cultural impact of 2022 on Qatar.  I suspect that either fans will stay way (I would recommend Amnesty Internationals’ latest report on Qatar before you book your flights) or Qatar will unleash a lot of unwelcome behaviour in its hotels, which will test their public relations arm to the limits.

As for the media, there are in fact examples of both excellent and diabolical commentary.  Topping my list of excellent commentary at the moment is Declan Hill’s Stumped, Unanswered Questions and an Organization with a Credibility Death-Wish, closely followed by David Conn’s contribution, Jens Sejer Andersen’s contribution, Paul Kelso’s contribution and Ian King’s reflections over at TwoHundredPerCent. Dishonorable mentions must go to the Daily Mail, and to an amazing attack on the ‘eight villains of the piece‘ by the Guardian, although the last of these appears to have been removed from their website.

If there is any criticism to be made of our media, it is that they raised our expectations too high.  The strength of our bid technically may well have encouraged them to do so, but they didn’t seem to have noticed that the decision is made not by a committee of wise and rational men, but rather by a group of malleable football D-listers.  The evidence was there, thanks to journalists like Andrew Jennings, but was perhaps not given the prominence in mainstream media over the years that it deserved.

Posted in 2018, Journalism, Marketing, Media, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Pride and prejudice

Posted by John Beech on November 13, 2010

Prejudice is always a hard one.  Can we really be so certain that someone else’s position is irrational and wrong?  To what extent should we take account of the context in which opinions are expressed?  Is football really the place to drag personal ideologies in to?

Certainly the last week or so has seen more than it’s share of issues.  Vlatko Markovic, the head of the Croatian Football Federation, has caused a storm of protests about anti-gay remarks he made in a newspaper interview (1).  He is now threatened with court action (2), and has subsequently apologised (3).  Not that that is particularly significant – it is the bedrock of prejudice that underlies the original remarks that is disturbing, and court action and an apology will not result in a sudden change of perspective.

Not the we don’t have issues nearer home.  In a different area of prejudice, there has been the anti-poppy protest by some Celtic fans [the offending banner can be seen here].  If instinctively you condemn the banner, and see Celtic and Rangers as a simple Catholic Republican v. Protestant Unionist divide, try looking at these two blog postings: Remembrance Sunday: An Alternative View and the response Let Me Wear My Poppy With Pride! (they come from an excellent website called The Celtic Underground, which is run by a group of angry middle-aged men, so it’s bound to get my vote [oops! betraying my own prejudices, but you may have already spotted them!]).  Together they make a compelling case against stereotyping fans, and for the complexity of issues that are often dismissed as ‘black or white’.

Even nearer home, we have seen what I would view as prejudice manifesting itself in a football match that may yet not be scheduled – AFC Wimbledon v. MK Dons.  Now, many readers will object to the name I have chosen to use for the latter team, preferring the soubriquet ‘Franchise’.  To them, it is the club that should not be allowed to dare to speak its name.

Their current anger, and I have no wish to increase it, is understandable.  Some sections of the media have been presenting this pairing as some kind of derby match.  This, I would suspect, is simply because as this is the first time the clubs will have met, and the pairing is a unique one – there are no direct comparisons to be made in the English game yet, and so people tend to fall back to assuming, wrongly, that the closest comparitors provide an example to be used for contextualisation.  One thing which some Wimbledon fans seem to forget – those who are offended that the two clubs have been bracketed as ‘rivals’ – is that rivalry is rarely two-sided.  Many Coventry City fans, for example, would see Aston Villa as deadly rivals, but I doubt that few of the latter’s fans would reciprocate this feeling.

What the possible meting has undoubtedly stirred up is long-held emotions, hatreds even.  These I would personally label as ‘prejudices’.  I’m very aware of why they are felt so strongly, but there seems to me to be an irrationality in the way they are being applied by some fans, and a dangerous one at that.  It’s the invocations to neither forgive nor forget that bothers me.  ‘Never forget’ I have absolutely no problem with – if you ‘forget’, you have no basis for advocating ‘never again’, which I would certainly advocate.  ‘Never forgive’ is, on the other hand, distinctly more problematic.  Its totemic presentation begs the rather vital question of who is to be forgiven or not.  In this case the obvious contenders are Sam Hamman, Pete Winkelman and the FA.  Current fans of MK are a rather less obvious contender, and yet it is they who bear the brunt of the abuse and hatred, oh, sorry, banter.

There has even been talk about possible violence at such a game.  If there should be, perhaps it will bring home to those who engage in ‘banter’ that there is a fairly thin line between their position and that of the Russians who defended the Odemwingie poster as ‘banter’.  Talking of violence is too often a self-fulfilling prophecy, typically if the context is overtly or covertly one of prejudice.

Peace and reconciliation(and bear in mind that I am based in Coventry [3], and in Coventry University [4], so I recognise that I am open to accusations of prejudice towards those two virtues) between football fans is possible.  A great example can be found North of the border this very week (5).  Let’s hope that, should the encounter in England happen, banter will take a back seat, and that we do not carry on passing on our own prejudices to the next generation of fans, who then feel the need to express the strength of their identity with their club through some rites-of-passage act of mindless violence.  Let’s see a bit more of the ‘yours in football spirit’.  After all, you don’t have to be prejudiced to be a loyal club fan.  Or am I wrong?

[In an act totally unrelated to this posting and the cages I may have inadvertently rattled in South West London, I’m off at silly o’clock during the coming night for our rather delayed ‘summer’ holiday.  I expect to be offline from late this evening for the best part of a fortnight, so there will be a disruption to both moderating of comments, and postings.]

Posted in Fans, Identity, Media | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Pompey’s soap turns into pantomime

Posted by John Beech on October 23, 2010

The most recent events at Fratton Park would have been more at home in the King’s Theatre, where Jack in the Beanstalk opens in a few weeks time.

To give a flavour of the goings on, let me quote from the Portsmouth News Fratton latest update newsletter for today.  The four consecutive entries, in chronological order, are:

Cotterill hails Hermann deal as recovery continues [Friday 10:45]

Pompey could close and be liquidated [Friday 11:35]

Andronikou hopeful of Gaydamak deal [Saturday 03:02]

Ex-Hull City chairman wants to buy Pompey [Saturday 07:11]

A tad melodramatic by any standards – even Liverpool’s and Manchester United’s of the last week – I think you’ll agree.

So, mid-morning on Friday, everything looks by Pompey standards stable.  The long-running saga of re-signing Icelandic defender Hreidarsson has finally happened.  Not only that, he seems to be fully recovered from a bad Achilles injury which he suffered back in March.  But he presumably knew nothing of the club statement which was about to appear on the club website (1).  Notwithstanding the local newspaper’s scoop, the statement was not posted until 18:15.

To be fair, the statement does contain the sentence “it appears likely that the club will now be closed down and liquidated by the Administrators as they are unable to support the continued trading of the club“, albeit in the ninth paragraph.  The statement’s headline is “Sacha Gaydamak Puts Future Of Portsmouth In Jeopardy“, hinting at the possible purpose of the statement – to increase pressure on Gaydamak to sign the necessary papers.  The obstacle, at least according to the statement, is that “at the 11th hour the goalposts have been moved by Mr Gaydamak and this has now made the deal impossible to complete.”  Specifically “Mr Gaydamak has demanded a very significant upfront cash payment in order to allow the deal to proceed by releasing his security.

In pantomime tradition the, the response to the question ‘Is Pompey heading for liquidation?’ the answer appears to be ‘Oh yes it is!’.  That at least is what the twitterati thought, and, with retweeting of the news, the story begins to read that Portsmouth are going into liquidation.  Even my daughter-in-law was prompted to message me ‘Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time Portsmouth ‘likely to close down”, together with the link to a BBC story.

By quarter to seven the local BBC radio station had contacted me for a comment, and by ten past seven I was in the Coventry studio emphasising that this was a breaking story, with no doubt some twists to come.

Sure enough, Administrator Andrew Andronikou, apparently rather taken by the response he had provoked, was prompted to change ‘Oh yes they are!’ to Oh no they probably aren’t.’  By mid-evening Andronikou was denying the club’s imminent demise to The Guardian’s Jamie Jackson (2), and in the early hours of Saturday morning he told BBC Sport (3) “Yesterday evening’s activities were really a wake-up call for everybody to say ‘look, we just can’t sit here whilst everybody else finesses their position. It is about coming to the table and cutting a deal’

Among the journalists following the story, Nick Szczepanik and then the BBC’s Matt Slater were quick to rumble what was going on – an attempt to pressure Gaydamak through the media, one that went rather wrong because it was in a sense too successful.  The original ‘Oh yes they are!’ story was widely repeated internationally, generally without the later retraction.

What is strange about this PR fail is that Gaydamak, through his lawyers, has refuted the story, denying the allegations of his obstruction (4).  What the truth is we will probably never know.  All we can do is chalk it up to experience, and the Pompey fans among us hope that agreement and signatures really are close.  Hopefully one lesson has been learned – while lack of transparency is singularly unhelpful, selective transparency can have decidedly unexpected outcomes.

Posted in Journalism, Media, Ownership, Public relations | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

The furious Winter’s rages

Posted by John Beech on September 29, 2009

Still catching up on my reading, I came across an extraordinary piece – Gerry Sutcliffe: a footballing nobody delivering cheap shots at the FA by Henry Winter (1).  Long on bile, venom and rancour, the article was rather shorter on facts.

He refers for example, to Sports Ministers who “come and go so quickly it is hard to remember their names and faces. Sports Ministers seem like the No 11 buses I used to take as a schoolboy along Whitehall. Don’t worry if you miss one; there’ll be another along in a minute.”  It may seem like that to some including Henry, but it surely ignores Richard Caborn’s spell as Sports Minister from 2001 to 2007, a period in post which most football mangers would envy. The fact that “the football correspondents of all the national newspapers” were gathered together at Wembley when, according to Henry, “an unfamiliar man walked in, sat down and attempted to speak with equal authority about football and the 2018 bid. Nice suit. Smooth patter. But who was he?  Blank looks spread around the room. Under the table, busy fingers sent text messages around to establish the identity of this individual who clearly felt he was a centre-piece of England’s bid. The mystery man was Sutcliffe.”

If Henry’s ignorance really was shared by his fellow football correspondents, it must surely tell us more about them and their competence to do their jobs than it does about Gerry Sutcliffe, who has been at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for over two years

One phrase he used really had me chuckling.  He referred to football as “a wonderful sport which brings so much revenue to the Exchequer“.  I just wonder which clubs exactly he had in mind.  Those that are ultimately owned by companies registered in the British Virgin Islands for tax avoidance purposes?  Those that make regular losses?  Those which have never fallen behind in payments to HMRC?  The one that, to  come out of Administration, tried (unsuccessfully as it happens) to settle its debts to HMRC at the rate of one penny in the pound?  Those reported to be planning to pay their players through interest free loans so that the players can avoid paying tax?

Henry’s a first-class football journalist normally when reporting the game on the pitch.  A pity he doesn’t stick to that.  Why did he come up with such an odd column?  Perhaps it’s a case of, to quote his own words, “surprise, surprise, it’s party-political-conference time. How cynical.

Posted in Governance, HMRC, Journalism, Media | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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