New goals: The changing face of media relations in the Premier League

A study into the communication practices of 25 current and former Premier League football teams found that just seven were still pursuing professional relationships with the mainstream press.

The rise of social media has shifted the focus of clubs away from traditional media channels and instead towards in-house publications, such as magazines, television channels and online.

In a series of interviews with Premier League club employees, Dr Elisavet Argyro Manoli, a lecturer in Sports Marketing and Communications at Loughborough University, found the goal of communications departments was now to increase their own publicity, media and news production – giving them a more “direct, prompt and accurate” connection to their fans.

Of the 25 teams involved in the research, three considered the in-house approach as a way of limiting their associations with the traditional media – keeping it at a minimum – describing the relationship as a “lost cause”.

Dr Manoli reported her findings in the book, Contemporary sport marketing: Global perspectives, earlier this year.

She said the in-house approach was one of four basic strategies for marketing and media relations identified during the interviews.

The policies were:

  • Developing the clubs’ own media to increase the directness of the communication
  • Actively building formal relations between the club and traditional media
  • Actively building formal relations between the club and local media
  • Sustaining informal personal relations between clubs’ employees and members of the media

Dr Manoli said: “A combination of these four strategies is followed in all clubs interviewed, with the interviewees suggesting that their efforts to develop the clubs’ own media and social media accounts has assisted them in regaining control of the communication process in a cost effective and direct way, while potentially excluding traditional media from the communications process altogether.

“At the same time, the focus appears to be often placed on local rather than national media, while informal relations between members of the press and football club employees tend to be the preferred approach in the overall media relations landscape.”

Clubs reported receiving more interest and less criticism through local channels compared with the national press.

Dr Manoli also found that clubs did not follow any kind of general communications structure, but instead relied upon the skills of individuals maintain efficient departments.

In the paper, she wrote: “As an overview of the findings of the empirical investigation, the complexity to generalise communications in football has to be underlined.

“As it was presented above by the current practice in the sport, communications do not follow a pattern or norm within the industry.

“On the contrary, differences exist in various elements, from the structure of the departments to the media relations practices applied.

“Another key element of the findings, as presented by all the interviewees, is that currently communications in football are not based on a proper business structure, but on very capable communications practitioners.

“Since guidelines on various aspects are absent, it is often the employees’ initiatives and abilities that assure the well-functioning of the industry.

“Consequently, it is the human assets that enhance the efficiency of communications in the football industry at the moment and not its business structure and processes.”

The data was collected through in-depth interviews with individuals employed in the Communications or Media departments of 25 out of the 30 clubs that participated in the English Premier League over the following seasons: 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The interviews took place between April and September 2014, with the duration varying from 20 to 40 minutes.

The full study can be read here.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 17/116

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