European Super League:
The worst PR campaign of
all time or just playing
the long game?

When I was a young producer at talkSPORT 20 years ago there were a number of stories that constantly hit the headlines and prompted yet another binary radio phone in.

Calls for video technology to be introduced after a team was robbed, whinging Spurs fans (usually Dave the cabbie) calling for their manager to be sacked and the rumours of the imminent introduction of a European super league. Not much has changed.  But as this ill-conceived European plan starts to unravel it’s important to understand the role of PR.

It’s safe to say that the announcement of the European Super League, teased throughout the day and announced at a grating 11pm, has not been a popular one. It even kept the newly unemployed Jose Mourinho off the back pages and that takes some doing. Gawd – I love to hate that Mourinho super brand. 

The inconvenient truth is that as magical as PR is, we can rarely make something look good which is bad. And however hard you try, the European Super League serves the interests of the few, not the many.

It’s likely that the clubs knew this would not be well received but have specific campaign objectives in mind. It’s unlikely that the PR brief was to make the league look positive.

The few comments released didn’t sound very convincing. Once the shirt burning has stopped, were we really willing to consider the “good points about solidarity payments”… and that “English football will take a lot of that money for the grassroots game”? These comments were half hearted at best. 

But whilst these not so super clubs start to scarper, this is just one more chapter in the super league story. The announcement was undoubtedly planned to coincide with UEFA decision over the champions league. Perhaps a nuclear option for securing more revenue or concessions. It will be interesting to see if these breakaway clubs will have secured more cash as a stepping stone for consolidating their power.

Whatever their campaign objectives, I’m guessing the PR advice probably was to keep schtum, at least for now. One man who didn’t get the memo was the Real Madrid president Florentino Perez who proclaimed “We’ve made the European Super League to save football”. I’m sure that was not in the agreed messaging. One might describe his comments as unhelpful. 

We’ve swallowed fans being alienated from the game for so long, we’ll probably sadly eventually accept the Americanisation of the beautiful game too. From scheduling 20:15 Sunday evening games for TV when there are no trains running for away fans to charging fans for birthday announcements on the stadium tannoy, the business of football stopped being a fan game long ago. Working class fans were priced out of the beautiful game and no one is too bothered as long as seats are filled and the rights are sold. It doesn’t matter if the atmosphere slowly dies or if players are paid a sickening 400k a week. The business of football is business. 

Yet there was one silver lining. It was good to see the amplification of fans’ voices thanks to social media. What might start as a one-way, top down narrative can fast become a global conversation which draws everyone in – from your average bloke/woman on the street to the PM. 

This pointless tear stained rant aside, before you slam the PR campaign let’s see how it plays out. It might be over for today but mark my words, this elitist league plan has not gone away. It’s a campaign that started over 20 years ago and will continue as the money is too tempting. Like Mourinho’s career, the final whistle has not blown on this one just yet.