Northampton Town and the art of managing a crisis in football

Reading Northampton Town Chairman David Cardoza’s rather empty and unconvincing statement on their latest financial trouble this morning (a winding up petition from HMRC) set my mind racing about the ‘art’ (I use the term loosely) of crisis communications in football.

Crisis? What crisis?

Cardoza’s current predicament is but one of at least three large predicaments; the first being that the council, owed some £10.5m, are equally determined to get their money back, and that the mysterious ‘consortium’ that were according to Cardoza charging full throttle to save the day pulled out on Monday.

Having spent over 11 years heading up PR at fan ownership specialists and football reformers, Supporters Direct, I regularly saw the spin operations of clubs going at full tilt to deal with one issue or another – often caused by their own hand.

I also advised a number of fan-owned clubs in the League about on-and-off pitch crises myself, so I thought I’d write something about how far too many clubs still execute their crisis management.

So here’s the 1-4 of how to write the standard football club rebuttal: an easy to use template for the starter football communications executive who is thrown into dealing with a big problem and needs a helping hand.

Disclaimer for the litigiously minded: Whether or not Cardoza convinces the fans of Northampton Town is another thing entirely, and whether he’s actually telling all of the truth is not really for me to deal with, of course. I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just using his statement as a hook to hang a hat on.

1. The all important headline
This is where you set minds at ease, and tell everyone that despite the issue at hand – in this case a winding up petition for non-payment – there’s really ‘nothing to see here’. You hope that this will stop anyone paying any further attention, but in case they do;

2. ‘Form is temporary’
Reassure everyone that even if there is a problem, which there isn’t, that it’s ‘temporary’, a ‘glitch’. If you’re talking about money, use the term ‘investment’ as much as possible; it’s a warm, fuzzy thing is the term ‘investment’. It conjures up visions of new signings that will placate the horny handed sons of toil, or ‘supporters’ as we know them;

3. We’re doing everything we can: this is not a crisis. There’s nothing to see here.
Did we mention that this isn’t a crisis? There really is nothing to see here. Besides, we’re close to reaching an agreement on ‘x, y or z’. We are, and we’ll let you know more soon. Promise;

4. Restate the headline
‘We’re sincerely moving to a brighter future/things are moving forward/are really exciting for all of us’. Things are on the up. They are. It’s never a better time to be here. Usually you get ‘come on you xxxxx’ or ‘let’s make sure we back xxxxx and the lads on Saturday/Sunday/in the FA Cup’. Disappointingly David Cardoza misses a golden opportunity here – an open goal missed some might say.

So that’s the crisis statement 101. Try it yourself.

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2 Replies to “Northampton Town and the art of managing a crisis in football”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Well-written blog post.

    This is a subject close to my heart. I work in PR and come from a football family.

    My Uncle is Brendon Batson, former Three Degree and WBA player. We have ‘discussions’ regularly on the issues and the types of crisis affecting clubs resulting in their response.

    Of course my Uncle and I differ sometimes but, we agree on one thing. Sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help with these matters. It’s a shame that some clubs don’t seem willing to accept this offer.

    Anne-Marie Batson

    Like

    1. Thanks Anne-Marie. It’s a good point, and one I found a lot of in football sadly. Too many people act as though the competition is in the boardroom, as if asking for help is an admission of failure. I often suspected that to some extent it might come from the types of people who have often owned football clubs – being at least portrayed as the ‘self-made businessman’ who did – and does – it all himself. That’s not supposed to be a slur on small businessmen either. It’s just the mindset that seems to exist. Does that sound completely wrong to you?

      Like

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