Liverpool FC and its manager Kenny Dalglish have come in for criticism over their handling of the Luis Suarez racism affair. Jonathan Welsh, associate director at Euro RSCG PR UK looks at the need football has for PR guidance.
Football isn't a game anymore, it's a business. A report from Deloitte this month showed that the world's top 20 football clubs had defied the economic downturn and had grown their revenues by 3 percent year on year.
As a fan, and supporter of cash-strapped Everton, I find this statistic appalling and yet more evidence that the game has, as the Judge at the Harry Redknapp trial mused last week, 'lost its way'.
Yet this post isn't from me as a fan, I'm giving my thoughts as a PR professional based in Manchester.
And my professional opinion is that it's time to safeguard managers for their own sake and have communication professionals advise them on how to respond to controversial incidents that occur during a game.
This season we've seen managers make damaging remark time and time again, culminating in the shambolic Kenny Dalglish Sky Sports interview following the Man Utd versus Liverpool Premier League match on Saturday.
This whole process, as I've stated from the start, has been a massive PR disaster for Liverpool FC but the climb-down by Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez has come too little and too late.
For man of Dalglish's standing at the football club to be continually fed to the media lions during an episode that he has not handled himself well in, is unfair on the manager and damaging for the global brand of Liverpool FC.
We live in an age of 24/7 social media, a competent PRO can spot a trend at any time on any issue using a smart phone. How can the manager not have been informed of his player's mistake and the appropriate response after the game?
Yet Dalglish was left to face the cameras and embarrass himself and his club, an incident his reputation may never recover from.
If this were a matter of diet, would the football club let Kenny cook the squad's pre-match meal? Would they have him file the accounts? No, they have professionals to that. Yet, in football, communications professionals do not advise the manager during match day on the touchline - the one place they need strong counsel the most. (This isn't conjecture, I have spoken to people within the game before writing this post.)
As I write this, I imagine the uproar of sports writers lambasting a PR man for trying to kill the integrity of reaction, the soul of the game. I agree, it shouldn't be the case.
Yet the media pressure on these men is not the same as it was in the 80's and these clubs are brands now in the same way Coca-Cola and McDonalds are, you can't hide from that fact.
Reactive comments can cause damage to a club's intangible assets or, as in the case with Roberto Mancini and Carlos Tevez, to the balance-sheet. Mancini could have been advised to hold fire on reacting to Tevez after the game and a deal could have been done behind closed doors which would have seen City sell the player without the manager losing face.
The minute the whole world knew he had allegedly refused to come on against Bayern Munich, however, the club had to back their manager and endure a public depreciation of a valuable asset - one they were unable to sell at the price they wanted in the January transfer window.
There are many other examples to reaffirm the need for comms to make a move from the marketing department to the match set-up, further fuelled by media offering managers quotes from their own players on Twitter (as in Alex McLeish's case).
A football manager should make the decisions for their club and be the master of their dug out, but they deserve the best advice. And, to me, the new media pressure means that managers need one more space on their subs bench in order to protect their reputations and that of their football clubs.
Reproduced with the permission of Jonathan Welsh from his own blog.