Euro Soccer Commits Costly Error

Jim Rocco 04.29.21


Normally, not being prepared in soccer might mean you weren’t paying attention to the coach during practice or you didn’t warm up properly before the game. But for 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs, “failure to prepare” was recently taken to a whole new level. And it’s a good lesson for crisis communicators.

On April 18, the sports world erupted when it was announced that a dozen of the world’s most prominent soccer clubs had decided to break away to form their own “Super League.” The concept, as laid out in their announcement, was that the best would be playing only the best and that that “would help football at every level,” according to Super League Chairman and Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez. His quote also pointed out that these powerhouse teams had a “responsibility” to “respond to the desires of the fans.”

There was only one problem: They could not have been more wrong about the desires of the fans.

The announcement was immediately and overwhelmingly met with outrage among the football faithful of Europe. The fans saw this as a scheme to help the rich get richer while the smaller clubs would suffer in obscurity from no longer competing against the big-name clubs.

Fan Wrath

The fans’ response was so passionate and one-sided, in fact, that it raises the question: Could the organizers of the Super League really have underestimated so massively the ensuing wrath of the game’s supporters? It hardly seems possible, but that’s what happened. The people behind the ill-fated breakaway venture clearly were not prepared for the public backlash, as evidenced by their plans completely imploding just two days later. Teams that joined almost immediately backed out.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, one obvious and unflattering reality of this doomed venture is the “ugly American” factor.

The most prominent English teams to commit to the Super League are American owned: Liverpool (John Henry), Arsenal (Stan Kroenke) and Manchester United (Joel Glazer). Even prior to the now-infamous coup, supporters of these clubs roundly resented the foreign ownership and saw the Yanks as, at best, interlopers and, at worst, greedy, uncaring and naïve to the ways of European football. With their push to start a new, more profitable league, these men did nothing to improve those negative perceptions.

The league’s astoundingly quick collapse was all the proof anyone needed to see that these organizations either completely misread how their maneuvers would be publicly received or, worse, thought they could just bully their way through.

Owners Respond

Ownership response varied. Stan Kroenke’s son Josh defended his family’s governance of Arsenal, while Joel Glazer wrote  an open letter of apology to Manchester United fans. Neither tact proved effective, as thousands of angry Arsenal fans protested outside their stadium chanting, “We want Kroenke out,” while frustrated Manchester United fans broke into the club’s training facility carrying “Glazer Out” banners (the photo accompanying this post is from outside the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester).

Even JPMorgan Chase apologized for arranging financing for the new league and misjudging fan response. “We will learn from this,” a company spokesman said.

The result will go down as one of the greatest miscalculations in modern sports history and will also be the ultimate case study for any company that wants to know what not to do in a public-facing crisis. It certainly is evidence that you must be prepared for any negative fallout of your actions.

Photo Credit: Kai L Connell/Shutterstock

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