Liverpool and Luis Suarez - A PR faux pas

Liverpool and Luis Suarez - A PR faux pas

There’s being fashionably late and then there’s turning up several days after the party has ended, and by deciding to comment on the Luis Suarez case in the final week of January I definitely fall into the latter category. However I’d like you all to bear with me while I explain why I left it so late.

Before I found myself involved in the world of public relations I harboured ambitions to be a journalist. My first love, as you can probably guess from this blog, is sport and I took a great interest in racism within it. I’d written pieces for the Football Supporters’ Federation on the subject and my current work deals with equity at a grass roots level. Talking about racism in the game to me is like a red rag to a bull and I wanted to approach the case, and Liverpool’s baffling response, as aware of the grim details as to what went on in that Anfield goalmouth as possible. Writing a blog piece over Christmas, when I’m full of food, beer and hell would’ve just resulted in a rambling diatribe against Mr Suarez. And no one wants to read that, do they?

Loyalty is a much sought after commodity in football. Almost any gesture, whether it be a player turning down a bumper contract elsewhere to stay with their current club or as happened in this instance a club backing a player after a less than savoury incident, will be applauded from the roof tops by fans and pundits alike. Sometimes though this clamour for loyalty overtakes the need for common sense.

Photo by Vincent Teeuwen

When Liverpool released their statement in the wake of the news that Luis Suarez was guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra it was clear to all that the Anfield press office needed their heads banging together. The charge was serious, yet here we had a football club not only backing their player but attempting to undermine the credibility of those on the other side and those who reached the verdict. If that wasn’t bad enough even the tired “some of my best mates/family members are black” caveat that seems to be applied exclusively by racists to give credence to their opinions was given a cursory paragraph.

A storm erupted and at this point Liverpool FC, the club which apparently prides itself on it’s reputation for equality, should have held its hands up and accepted the findings with good grace. Maybe someone within the press office suggested this was the best course of action. Who knows? If they did we can only assume they were shot down because the club had just knocked up a few dozen Pro-Suarez t-shirts and the club couldn’t justify wasting any more cash after the transfer of Andy Carroll (I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist).

After the t-shirts another statement followed, as did a glut of online rants from myopic supporters unable to accept that the FA’s findings were reasonable based on the now publicly available evidence. However there has been a slow realisation from those on Merseyside that Liverpool’s brand has been damaged by their antics. I’m hardly an expert, but I could’ve warned them off going down this particular road if they didn’t want their name tarnished.

Were Liverpool’s press office negligent or were their concerns ignored by those above them who believed that they’d not get dragged off their high horse if they tried to play down the validity of the allegations against one of their players? I know which I believe. Liverpool’s response to the Suarez verdict was baffling to everyone, even those with a very basic knowledge of public relations. You don’t become one of the biggest brands in world football if you have dolts managing your reputation.

Amongst the media and rival fans Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish will be associated with racism for a long time. I’ll leave whether that’s fair or not for you to decide. On the other hand many existing supporters have been emboldened by the club’s stance, taking some form of pride in the siege mentality that the club created with their statements but then that’s blind loyalty for you. Unfortunately as valuable is loyalty is it doesn’t protect teams from negative PR, especially when said team is on a collision course with the English game’s cause célèbre.