The Word on Change; How New Ownership Can Help Comms Reset & UEFA’s Plans Should Spark PR Fightback

How your feelings towards the team you support can change completely in such a short space of time.

A matter of weeks ago I felt a detachment with my own club Sunderland who were being left to grow stale under the previous ownership, with apathy that seemed to be spilling over onto the pitch.

In the aftermath of a takeover and a fresh new energy in the club under Kyle Louie-Dreyfus, with the small matter of a fantastic league run and a Wembley cup win, the outlook could not be more different.

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Caption: Sunderland fans are in great spirits at the moment

What does this show ? There are two key takeaways.

Firstly, the emotive nature of football fans and how these sensibilities are heightened compared to that of non-sporting organisations.

Secondly, change is key to the swings in emotion and that in turn can present new opportunities for communications to play an integral role in aligning a change in their publics’ attitude with structural changes in the football club.

The last week saw two very different stories breaking of changes within the game.

Wigan Atheltic announced a Bahrain-based consortium had confirmed their takeover of the club , subject to EFL approval and reports that UEFA were in advanced talks for a significant revamp of the Champions League from 2024, that will have ramifications for football clubs across the continent.

‘Good to be a Wiganer?’

Sunderland’s communications team since KLD’s takeover in February have had a field day, with the new regime somewhat favourably coinciding with a very successful period on the pitch.

A new and improved streaming service for games that has been a hit with the fans and the club supported a Β£150,000 fan-led fundraiser for various local charities, so there have been a sea of positive headlines and shows just how a takeover can lead to a culture shift win the club, with communications playing the role of rebuilding trust with fans.

Caption: Happier times at the DW as their takeover is finally nearing completion

The Bahrain-based consortium’s agreement with administrators at the DW finally concluded and it is an opportunity for Wigan’s comms team to plan for the new regime and goodwill that can be fostered by it when championing positive modifications within the club.

Caption: Wigan’s Twitter account confirmed the news on Monday

Unsurprisingly, whilst Wigan’s comms channels have acknowledged the deal, they have remained cautious over their tone , which is understandable given that the EFL will be more stringent in their checks given recent criticism and could potentially see further delays to completion.

Their fans have endured some tough years and could well be following neighbours Bolton into a second consecutive relegation to the fourth tier, but the idea of a fresh start must be engrained in Wigan and any club with a new regime, with Sunderland’s comms teams demonstrating the success of this approach.

Tough as it maybe given the Latics’ standing in League One, a change in ownership can mean a new direction for public relations strategy, pressing the proverbial reset button.

Premier League Vs UEFA- Can English Football Fight Back?

I was surprised to hear reports that talks were progressing between UEFA and affiliated associations which will drastically alter the format of the Champions League and with it the domestic leagues across the continent, given that UEFA or the clubs themselves had not discussed it openly.

Caption: The recognisable ‘big-ears’ maybe the prize for an unrecognisable competition from 2024

Under the new proposals for outset of the 2024/25 campaign, some qualification places would be reserved teams based on historic performance and will take place in the form of a thirty-six team league competition before the knockout phase, which is said to require a reduction of Premier League size from twenty to eighteen teams and potentially scrapping the EFL Cup.

Caption: 2017 League Cup Final, which may fall victim to UEFA’s new plans

This is likely to cause a backlash for UEFA themselves and European ‘super-clubs’ who again will be shown to favour their own bottom-line over fairness and competition.

However, this could also spell an opportunity for clubs in England who do not to this exclusive bosses’ club, to present themselves as a force of good against the powerful mercenaries of UEFA.

This may be risky for the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea who stand to generate millions under the new plans, but Premier League clubs who are not gagged and bound by UEFA, have nothing to lose in being very vocal through all elements of PESO and act as a voice for the voiceless, in this case the lower league clubs who could lose critical revenue in the likelihood of the EFL Cup being sacrificed by the FA.

Crystal Palace chairman, Steve Parish has already expressed his disgust at the devastating impact this will have on the domestic game, but I think this view, which is shared by most football fans I know.

This should be part of Premier League clubs’ communications plans and perhaps as a collective effort to push UEFA into abandoning the plans, or at very least the clubs involved generating a lot of goodwill from their own fan base and externally.

Caption: Steve Parish has been critical of UEFA’s proposals and others should follow

The messaging needs to be strong, following the lead of Steve Parish. Practitioners should encourage club directors to speak candidly to the media with vehement opposition to UEFA’s plans, which is seemingly lacking in the mainstream media at the moment.

PL and EFL clubs could also collaborate on a shared social media campaign that would put the spotlight on the organisations enabling this change, gaining momentum if the bigger clubs outside of the traditional ‘big four’ like Spurs and Leicester get involved, which makes sense given that UEFA’s new plans will create a closed shop and a less competitive domestic league.

How hamstrung the FA may be in all this I do not know, but I believe English football clubs at all levels have a chance to be on the right side of history through shared platforms and strong messages. PR functions within the clubs are integral to this.

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