MEDIA: FOOTBALL - Pressure to publish without own goals. Football has become big business within the UK which has had a positive effect on the sector’s specialist press

As the football season gets under way and the struggle for silverware begins, there’s an equally fraught struggle kicking off in the media world - the competition to provide the best football coverage possible and thus secure the best available audience. Most media - Sky, the newspapers, the BBC, even internet companies - have reserve editorial to fill in the gaps if the soccer’s poor but at the heart of this battle are the football magazines, and they have nowhere else to go.

As the football season gets under way and the struggle for

silverware begins, there’s an equally fraught struggle kicking off in

the media world - the competition to provide the best football coverage

possible and thus secure the best available audience. Most media - Sky,

the newspapers, the BBC, even internet companies - have reserve

editorial to fill in the gaps if the soccer’s poor but at the heart of

this battle are the football magazines, and they have nowhere else to

go.



These are tough times for magazines like Shoot, FourFourTwo, Match of

the Day and team titles like Manchester United and Chelsea. As the

appetite for football coverage increases, competition increases. Each

time a new medium is launched, sports coverage always seems to drive it

forward.



Sky sold dishes on the back of the Premier League and many of the most

successful internet sites are sports-related.



The internet is piling on pressure to such an extent that when Zone

Publishing - credited by many for inventing official club magazines -

recently sold its club titles, including Manchester United and Chelsea,

to Future Publishing, it insisted on retaining the internet rights.



The football magazines are besieged on both sides. While the pressure on

their readership has increased, the football clubs themselves remain

uninterested in building PR links with the media. Indeed, they seem

keener on banning journalists from their grounds than building links

with the press. ’Football club PRs are about blocking your access to the

manager rather than getting you an interview,’ says one soccer title

editor.



The influx of sponsorship money in recent years has meant that magazines

have a new route to the players - the sponsors’ desire for

publicity.



’We found men’s magazines began to circumvent the obstacles cricket

clubs had in place by coming to the players through Vodafone,’ says Andy

Kenny, senior account manager at sports PR agency Craigie Taylor.

Craigie Taylor manages Vodafone’s cricket relationships and was key in

securing the firm’s Manchester United sponsorship last February.



’The soccer magazines have wised up to this and they’re approaching the

sponsors,’ he explains. ’It’s a virtuous circle. They get access to the

players they want, the players get to increase their profile and the

sponsor gets coverage.’ Magazines are thus changing their relationship

with the PR industry. Whether this will guarantee success remains to be

seen. After all, media is a game of two halves.





CHELSEA - Alex Leith



Position: Editor



Frequency: Monthly



Circulation: 20,674



Publisher: Future Publishing





’We’ve had a redesign since I took over in February, cutting back on

text, changing the masthead and so on. That’s been part of an overall

editorial shift to deal with the market downturn.



’I deal with PROs a lot at the moment. But the magazine itself is

probably moving away from that so I expect my contact to diminish.



’PROs can be helpful or awful. It’s irritating when you turn up to a

launch and there are three footballers and 100 journalists. The

footballers get harassed and the journalists get awful interviews with

no exclusives. PROs should read the magazine before ringing so the story

is relevant to us.’





BBC MATCH OF THE DAY - Tim Glynne-Jones



Position: Editor



Frequency: Monthly



Circulation: 72,777



Publisher: BBC





’Although we are a BBC magazine, we have looser links with our programme

than the others. When the BBC loses Premiership rights at the end of the

season, it won’t affect us.



’The PR industry surrounding football is not very helpful, not in the

same way that music, film or fashion PROs can be.



’Footballers get their wages from the club and their careers progress on

results, so having a media profile is not really important. If we want

to interview a player, we are put on a list for the next time he’s

giving interviews, usually when he’s got a new boot to promote. That

makes it hard to plan the magazine.’





SHOOT - Colin Mitchell



Position: Editor



Frequency: Weekly



Circulation: 50,303



Publisher: IPC Media





’Shoot is trying to change subtly so we don’t alienate current readers

while we bring in new or lapsed ones.



’The title’s aimed at eight to 14-year-olds but lots of our readers are

older. The son buys it but dad reads it.



’The market is changing and the boot or shirt companies are becoming the

players’ agents in many ways. For access, it’s better to go through

sponsors.



’I’m interested in talking to PROs about access to players meaning

access to the product for our readers. But we are promised interviews

with players and end up with two minutes with each one. How can I honour

my side of the bargain if that happens?’





FourFourTwo - Michael Hann



Position: Editor



Frequency: Monthly



Circulation: 88,329



Publisher: Haymarket





’We get interviews through shirt sponsors, because it’s the only way to

get them without paying. Some clubs’ relationships with the press are

the worst in journalism.



’We had a woman journalist trying to get a press ticket for a game at a

club she supported. When she revealed she was a fan, the bloke in the

press office said ’you sound more like an Arsenal fan to me love,’and

refused to give her a ticket.



’Everton has a very good press service and Huddersfield is really

helpful.



But most of the time, you usually find that the press officer is some

bloke who’s been hanging round the club for ages so they give him the

job.’



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