Man United PR chief dismisses fears club is cutting out independent media

Manchester United's PR chief has dismissed concerns raised by a number of journalists that the club is attempting to cut out independent media in favour of the club's owned channels such as MUTV.

Are Man United trying to send off independent media?
Are Man United trying to send off independent media?

The issue was brought to light yesterday (16 May) by BBC News sports editor Dan Roan, following a story on PRWeek in which he said PRs at football clubs can be overprotective and paranoid.

Several commentators including Roan have since pointed PRWeek to a tweet (below) by Associated Press journalist Rob Harris, written following a conference call between Manchester United investors and the club's vice chairman Ed Woodward.

During the call Woodward said the club would "aggressively market" the MUTV app to "drive awareness, downloads and subscriptions". Harris said this meant the club would be taking greater control over news from the club, thereby cutting out independent media.

A number of other journalists also took to social media to express their concerns, including talkSPORT broadcaster Mark Saggers, who labelled the move as "pathetic".

In response to Harris' tweet, Saggers said: "[It's] the beginning of the end game as far as broadcasters and journalists who actually ask proper questions rather than club puppets."

In response, Manchester United comms director Phil Townsend dismissed the claims as untrue.

He said: "It was clear to those who were listening [to the conference call], that Ed was referring to the promotion of the new MUTV app, not to how we conduct press conferences or deal with external media. Nothing will change on that front."

The MUTV app launched in February and is available in 165 countries - though it is not available in the UK.

Utilising fan media

Following the backlash on social media, David Fraser, founder of PR firm Ready10 and host of the QPR fans' podcast, said clubs should make better use of fan media. 

He said: "Fan media is earned, critical and impartial, meaning supporters often have more trust in it than in a club's official channels."

Fraser said the comms team at QPR realises that there are some stories that cannot be put out via the club's owned channels.

"Over the last two years QPR has built up relationships with all the fans' groups to give them exclusive content and to feed information out there... not only does it keep fans engaged, it helps the club out too," he said.


Read next: From overprotection to paranoia - are PRs at football clubs right to shield players from media?

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