Football clubs must learn to listen

As I am sure you will be aware, the new Premiership football season begins this weekend. I used to be a huge football fan, but in recent years I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the so called beautiful game. High ticket prices, ever changing kick off times and club owners who treat fans with contempt have all contributed to me falling out of love with football.

One worrying new trend which has emerged recently is the way in which many clubs are seeking to control media access to their managers and players. The most high profile example of this is at Newcastle United where Sky TV and the Daily Mirror have been appointed as preferred media partners.  Other local and national media outlets are being denied access and instead have to rely on material supplied to them by the club’s “in house journalists” (i.e. press officers).

It may not be entirely coincidental that a similar situation has arisen at Rangers, where Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has a significant and highly controversial shareholding. The BBC is refusing to send staff to Rangers home games after reporter Chris McLaughlin was banned by the club. Rangers, who are upset by McLaughlin’s reports into the ongoing financial shenanigans at the club and racist chanting by Rangers fans, have also banned a number of other journalists.

Lower division clubs are getting in on the act too. At Swindon Town the club no longer hosts press conferences and instead their “in house journalist” (that phrase again!) now posts interviews and news items on the club website and on social media.

Clubs obviously feel that by using social media they can communicate directly with their fan base without having to go through a third party such as the local newspaper. However, that communication is very much one way as the fans do not have the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns.

Imagine what an outcry there would be if a high profile public sector organisation, let’s say a Council or an NHS Trust, were to behave like this. If football clubs want to win back people like me then they need to stop behaving like dictators and recognise that criticism can be a healthy thing. After all, for communication to be effective it needs to be a two way process.


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