As a Crystal Palace FC season ticket holder, I am used to frustration, anxiety and existential angst. The trying nature of supporting a club that is punching well above its weight is counter-balanced by moments of true exhilaration, made all the better when shared with family and friends.
It is fascinating at times to see how clubs such as Palace and the football industry in general communicate to their stakeholders; as football has evolved into a multi-billion pound global industry, clubs have to think a lot broader than a short release to a local newspaper, which might have sufficed as recently as the 1990s.
To the surprise of me and several thousand other long-suffering fans, we each received an email on the morning of Sunday 25th February (hours before a crucial home game against Tottenham Hotspur) informing us that whilst most season tickets could be renewed, our particular stand is currently unavailable for renewal for next season. The email went on to suggest, in the vaguest terms, that “we are currently reviewing the configuration” in said stand, “with a view to enhancing both the atmosphere in the stadium and safety and security.”
Now, even twenty years ago a communication such as the above (likely sent by post) may have been discarded without a moment’s hesitation; not in the 21st century and the age of social media and internet forums. Within minutes, Palace fans waking up to the email began communicating with the club and each other across several platforms, and the noted frustration and anxiety boiled over – ‘are we being moved to a different part of the stadium?’ and ‘is a standing area being reintroduced?’ – the two main concerns.
Out of this swirled discontent with the owners, upset at other supporters and anger at modern football in general. Circumstances were not helped by Palace losing 0-1 to Tottenham in the late stages of a poor match in freezing conditions later in the day.
Three points dropped
From a public relations perspective, Palace made three critical errors: timing, content and distribution. Receiving a tricky email on a Sunday morning, when most people are relaxing, and just hours before a game, when most people will be meeting friends and acquaintances they have built up over twenty years in the stand demonstrates a lack of awareness.
The content of the email – vague, but with just enough detail to worry people, was the next mistake. Hinting towards various things under consideration, but not explicitly saying what leads to rumour and speculation, which is by its nature inherently negative.
The distribution method was also called into question: sending emails directly to those affected is fine, but not all affected actually received the email. All hail the return of communication by post, and a tailored, personal approach to communications between company and stakeholder.
It will be interesting to see how the issue plays out over the forthcoming weeks. Not only is Palace struggling in the Premier League (making inconveniencing fans and fostering division hardly ideal), but a planning application has been submitted for a significant redevelopment of a separate stand, with both the clubs’ supporters and local community invited to comment upon proposals.
At a crucial moment in the season for Palace, there is too much at stake for poor communications to lose hearts and minds of loyal fans.