The European Super League: A Super Failure Of Engagement

The 48-hour life cycle of the proposed European Super League showed the cost of not working with stakeholders, especially political ones. Decisions made behind closed doors are doomed to failure. Politicians, especially, never like to be excluded.

The complete and utter outrage that followed immediately on the late night/early morning official announcement must have been expected by those proposing the breakaway. Any business decision of this magnitude should have been fully worked through and scenarios developed.

I have no doubt that those involved delivered the right sort of communications advice, but it seems that no one was listening. Or maybe there were so many advisers on board that they ended up talking over each other. Maybe the communications considerations came a distant second or third to others, such as financial ones. We may get to know more as various inquiries no doubt start to take place.

The Times has a fascinating piece on how the communications played out. There is a golden rule at play which is that if you are going to adopt an unpopular position then be prepared to support and defend it. You cannot wilt at the first sign of outrage.

The US owners of Manchester United and Liverpool have been receiving most of the blame for the proposals and we can expect that to increase as the other clubs involved, in England and across Europe, look to distance themselves from the fallout.

It is the fallout that will dominate, probably for years. There are the relationships between the clubs involved and their fans, between the clubs and those they were willing to leave behind and, of course, with Governments across Europe.

The first stage has been to consider apologies. Arsenal got a written one out quickly in an open letter but Liverpool’s owner, John W Henry, at least fronted a personal message. That was, though, after an initial statement that could only be described as impersonal and lacking empathy. Joel Glazer too has issued an apology. However, apologies should be straightforward to put together and an effective delivery expected of experienced business leaders.

But it is the politics that will come to dominate. The Conservative Party manifesto promised “a fan-led review of football governance” and now Tracey Crouch MP “will do a root-and-branch investigation into the governance of football and what we can do to promote the role of fans in that governance,” as the Prime Minister stated. The Government has also quickly produced the terms of reference for the review. This will obviously cover the whole of English domestic football but not the international bodies that, many would argue, need looking at as well.

So, because of the Super League proposals, Government intervention can now be guaranteed, if not the timescale or the exact nature of any intervention.

All clubs, not just the breakaway six, need to consider their involvement and responses to the review. Despite the anger aimed at the six, the review outcomes need to work for all levels of football. Some clubs may welcome the current focus on the German fan ownership model but that may not suit all. Others have talked about wage caps and restructuring the funding arrangements.

As with any review and potential follow-up legislation there is a danger of unintended consequences.

So, the clubs, the footballing bodies, fan bodies and others need to plan their political engagement and position on the review. They also need to think about the solutions they want to see, how they can be delivered while also being ready to counter the position that may be adopted by others. No one should be blinded by the actions of the 6 or seek revenge. Whatever happens next must work for all.

And whatever happens, don’t ignore the politicians. Their potential ire is legendary.

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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