We are always discussing the ever-changing real estate landscape at Redwood Consulting, but sometimes the conversation steers towards other topics and personal interests. Following the announcement six English football clubs will form a ‘super league’, five of our Redwood colleagues put their own opinions and thoughts onto paper – with a little comms twist.

  • Freddie Rosen (Chelsea fan) discusses the importance of stakeholder engagement and consultation
  • Esme Roberts (Manchester City fan) reflects on the origins of football and why a ‘super league’ threatens the future of the game
  • Tom Belger (Manchester United fan) examines the need to carefully manage brand and reputation
  • Vasu Guigan (Arsenal fan) looks at the ‘super league’ from a UK vs International perspective

We begin with Freddie…

Lack of consultation will sink Super League

It’s easy to forget the importance of consultation and engaging with stakeholders when it is not a statutory obligation, like with planning. Indeed, what can seem like a laborious, box-ticking exercise frequently turns out to be fruitful and impactful on the plans for which we facilitate the consultation here at Redwood Consulting. We provide our clients and local communities with the opportunity to enter into a meaningful dialogue and, whilst you can never deliver a proposal that wins the hearts of minds of every man, woman and child in a given district, borough or town, the process itself will ease the path toward the future and the benefits it can provide.

What struck me most about the Super League proposals announced on Sunday evening was the seeming lack of consultation with not just the relevant supporters trusts, but with governments, league and football associations, as well as players and club staff in general. Of course, one can understand the need to be careful with sensitive information and the inherent risk of steadily increasing the circle of people who are privy to it, but therein lies the fundamental problem with private ownership of football clubs. Unlike American-style franchised sport, each of the clubs in the pyramid that make up British football (and in large part, European football as well) were built, historically, by local communities. As such, no matter their stake and role in the day-to-day running of the clubs in 2021, what the owners of the so-called ‘Big Six’ have failed to realise is that they are and, always will be viewed as, temporary custodians of the clubs. The government’s policy response to this issue will likely be vital in resolving it.

Whilst plans for a Super League were always going to cause friction with the Premier League, FIFA and UEFA, most fanbases would likely have sat down with club executives to discuss alternative arrangements and long-term plans – as they do (in the most part) on a regular basis, via supporters’ trusts. That these lines of communication are open, but were not used, will cause the greatest damage in the long-term for the breakaway teams. That every trust related to the ‘Big Six’ has already condemned the league was probably to be expected – but that they were not trusted with the information before the announcement is an unforgivable error of stakeholder communications.

In our experience of stakeholder engagement exercises, there are always groups that you know will struggle to support your plans, for a number of rational reasons. However, the solution to that problem will always be proactive, not reactive. I have no doubt that internal comms and community engagement teams at all of the clubs involved have spent the past 48 hours frantically calling and emailing fans and their representatives, desperately trying to arrange meetings with the club’s executives. Whilst some of the supporters trusts may feel that engagement can still yield a solution or compromise, many will take the approach that the Spirt of Shankley (Liverpool supporters) has adopted, according to its statement on the Super League proposals:

There will be no further supporter engagement or consultation. The flags and banners used to market LFC to new support are being removed from the Kop, and we will call a virtual public meeting to discuss next steps.”

The Super League, like any significant proposal, will require, at the very least, buy-in (if not regulatory approval) from central and local government. With statements like the above, if this were a planning committee, the recommendation might not be for approval.