Does anybody care about having a good reputation in football?
Any casual observer of the so-called “beautiful game” would presume that football or footballers have as much connection with the notion of corporate reputation as an earth worm does.
After years of attempting to kick racism out of the UK game, high profile players for major league clubs are becoming associated with that most repugnant of behaviour. Is it unrealistic to expect respectful on-pitch relations from our footballers, or are they simply too stupid to recognise as acceptable what the bulk of society did long ago?
And, this week, the match between Iberian titans, Madrid and Barcelona – a fixture that’s become predictably ill-tempered – outdid itself for pointless, farcial, reputation shredding bad behaviour.
Spanish sports commentators labelled the performance by Madrid as “treason against their own history”, saying that manager Jose Mourinho “threw away all Madrid’s history and instead insisted on a lamentable match from which he got no benefit for Madrid. It was all bad: the result, the play, the violence.”
What does this matter, in a sport where – despite money and scandal overflowing in equal measure – fans continue to show up and sponsors back the big teams?
Trusty Twitter friends came forward with their own views: asked whether it mattered if football clubs had a good or bad reputation, veteran communications professional, @NigelSarbutts, opined “To the fans, sort of; to sponsors, more so, but it’s still trumped by pragmatism. Brands queue up to sponsor any Premier League side I’d say. It’s just ad space.”
Corporate communications expert, @domburch, felt reputation fundamental, even in football: “Of course. Attracting new talent (back office as well as players), new fans, sponsorship – all dependent on your reputation.”
Former Staniforth colleague, Ghida Basma – whose Masters degree dissertation focused on reputation in football, says that the reputation of players can’t help but have a correlation on the reputation of the club.
Interestingly, a 10-year-old piece of research suggests that clubs with a reputation for foul play tend to be penalised by referees more, based on a predisposition in the official’s brain that players for a notoriously “dirty” club must be up to their usual tricks. Yorkshire PR man, Anthony Devenish, says: “Leeds takes flack as ‘dirty Leeds’, thanks to the 70’s team. Their rumoured motto? ‘Let’s get blood on our boots’.”
In other fields – business, politics, the military and, more recently, in tabloid journalism – taking a reckless attitude to reputation has a variety of tangible effects, among them imprisonment, loss of trust, collapsing share price, corporate closure and so on.
Surely, the workings of world’s most popular sport and building and maintaining a good reputation are not mutually exclusive concepts?
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.