The failure to win control of Manchester United must seem like a
pin prick to Rupert Murdoch in the great global media battle he
It would be nice as an insurance policy, should BSkyB’s exclusive deal
with the Premier League be struck down, but it is not central to his
plans. Nor is its loss life-endangering for BSkyB - as the unruffled
stock market reaction demonstrated. BSkyB will stand or fall on the
success of its ambitious digital expansion. Which explains why Mr
Murdoch can promise not to wage a ’jihad’ on the Government.
Yet, as the dust settled from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s
(now the Competition Commission) stinging decision, the questions
persist: did BSkyB blunder with its bid PR? Or did it lose Manchester
United through a combination of PR boobs and a failure to argue its case
energetically in the court of public opinion, on TV and radio?
Last Monday, Mark Booth, BSkyB’s US chief executive (who set the tone
when he was unable to name United’s current left back, Dennis Irwin, at
the bid press conference), sent an e-mail to all staff. While
disappointed, he said the company had done a good job putting its case
to the regulators.
Emotional arguments rather than competition issues had won the day, he
said. Alas, this overlooks BSkyB’s failure to win round the key external
regulator, the ITC, whose submission argued that guarantees preventing
abuses would be ’unenforceable’.
The Booth message also left open the PR issue. BSkyB seems to
consistently underestimate the hostility it provokes - specifically, the
anti-Murdoch/anti-Sky climate into which this bid was launched.
News of the bid erupted like a thunder clap last September. BSkyB based
its case too heavily on technical competition grounds, believing, as did
the City, that it would squeak through public interest tests. The loss
of political ally Peter Mandelson at the DTI was a blow, since Chris
Smith, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, had insisted on an MMC
BSkyB was also constrained, by takeover rules, in the kind of lobbying
and advertising it could pursue. But even company insiders now say they
didn’t do enough as an array of Shareholders United Against Murdoch and
ManU fans joined forces and lobbied, often with no opposing BSkyB
Sure, BSkyB employed a Manchester PR agency and its head of sport, Vic
Wakeling, was used to argue the case there, but very little was heard
But even if BSkyB had run the smartest PR campaign ever seen, I doubt it
would have prevented the regulators from going with the grain of public
opinion. Booth set out early on to make Sky seem more friendly, but it
hasn’t managed to erase the anti-Murdoch factor.