Is there a role for PR professionals in football fan protests?

1 March 2012, 20:03
St. James' Park

Photo by Akuppa

On Saturday there was a funeral. A handful of Newcastle United supporters laid the name St. James’ Park to rest. Opinion was divided – some thought it was a great way to display discontent, others felt it was tasteless. While it was apparent that the unpopularity of the name change was almost universal, agreement on how to make these feelings known wasn’t.

Whereas clubs see fans as a homogeneous group who will be largely content when presented with a winning team, supporter trusts have to contend with the fact that outside the stadium this crowd is made up of a variety of publics who have entirely different expectations, especially regarding fan representation. It could be suggested the popularity of the Premier League contributed to this rift amongst supporters. “Going to the game” is now seen as a family event, with a mix of socio-economic groups rubbing shoulders in the stands. Moreover the importance of the crowd in general has altered, as the amount of money that comes in from other sources increases.

This poses an issue for supporter campaigns – not only are fans increasingly divided, but their concerns no longer carry the weight they once did. As a result movements are having to become better organised and more media savvy, much like the Love United Hate Glazer campaign. However there is only so much fans can achieve in their spare time and without proper PR skills.

Could we see a time in the future when supporter trusts actively use public relations agencies to further their cause? I’d be surprised if the idea hasn’t already been talked about. As it gets harder for fans to make their voices heard from the terraces hiring a PR agency will become increasingly attractive, especially if the only alternative way to get a message out there is by spending yet more cash on badges, banners and scarves.

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