When football and business don’t mix

I don’t think I can ever recall a previous case when the resignation of a PR firm from its client made the national TV news, but that is what happened last weekend when JP Morgan and Brunswick announced that they were no longer acting for Malcolm Glazer, the American tycoon who has been attempting to take over Manchester United.

Once again it underlines that footballers are not like the rest of us. Football clubs are a special case and those associated with them get special treatment.

No one has ever quite explained why this should be, but from a PR standpoint the interesting thing is how little challenge there ever is to the idea that ‘football is different’.

When, for example, Roman Abramovich suddenly bought Chelsea he got control when a series of independent offshore trusts all accepted his offer. The Financial Services Authority, for its own peace of mind, sought to establish that there had been no collusion between these offshore trusts. Eventually it decided not to waste too much time pursuing the issue because ‘football’s like that’.

Most football clubs (though not the ones mentioned here), are poorly run, dominated by one over-powerful individual, treat their employees badly, pay little attention to the laws of contract, have lax financial controls and lose money. Yet they seem to think that even when they are public companies they should somehow be immune from the threat of takeover on the grounds that this might be damaging to the club in the future.

It might be, or it might not, but either way it is not a reason to turn company law on its head. It is fascinating though that clubs can be so confident of their public image that they see no reason not to go down this route. And it is even more interesting that no one in the media challenges them for it.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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