Premier League must champion purpose beyond profit, urge comms pros

The Premier League needs to emphasise a social purpose beyond its monetary motivations in order to 'humanise' itself, sport and PR experts have said following the departure of the league's longstanding comms chief.

Good work off the pitch: Arsenal's Theo Walcott in the Premier League's new Primary Stars CSR campaign
Good work off the pitch: Arsenal's Theo Walcott in the Premier League's new Primary Stars CSR campaign

It was announced on Thursday that Dan Johnson would leave the organisation at the end of the season - having first joined in 2000, become head of comms in 2009, and later comms director. It is not known if a direct successor will be brought in.

The league has also been working since September with Pitch Marketing Group - whose clients also include Premier League sponsor TAG Heuer, as well as BT and its growing enterprise BT Sport - on community-focused initiatives. Pitch's new campaign for the league, around its Primary Stars education initiative, launched on Friday. Alexandra Dallas, a comms manager at Premier League, was an associate director at for nine years at Pitch.

Tim Crow, CEO of Engine-owned sports and entertainment agency Synergy, says the Primary Stars campaign should be considered alongside two developments announced last year. In February 2016, the league launched a new logo, and said that 2016/17 would be its first season in 25 years without a title sponsor.

Crow said: "The Premier League obviously is a huge success story in corporate terms, but when you talk to fans, they say the league itself is about two things - it’s about football and it’s about money - but not in a good way. I think they have realised that they need to have a purpose beyond profit, that they need to stand for something beyond money."

He said that that "money-grabbing" image was the league's "achilles heel", because it had led to "increasing numbers of people streaming ilegally" and protests about ticket prices for away fans. "They’ve got to adddress those material issues, but they’ve also got to stand for something beyond profit - and they’ve got to see that as an opportunity not a problem," Crow said.

Other PR professionals agreed that the league needs to emphasise new and existing social purposes and CSR work in order to improve its image.

Shimon Cohen, chair of The PR Office, said: "The Premier League needs to really embrace the 21st century. Its global appeal together with its massive revenues gives it the opportunity to do so much more for fans the world over."

"As well as showcasing the best of English football, the league needs to do more to promote equality, good health, positive mental health, hard work and teamwork - all things sport represents but never seems to talk about," said Cohen, whose work in football has included advising an unsuccessful candidate for the president of global governing body FIFA last year.

Paddy Hobbs, head of sport at agency PrettyGreen, said: "The challenge the Premier League faces is humanising an organisation that has such financial and administrative dominance over English football. The perception, rightly or wrongly, among football fans is the Premier League is only interested in scoring goals for themselves, with little willingness to track back, put a tackle in or provide assists to others."

Hobbs went on to say that the league already does a lot of work in the community, but may struggle to communicate that. He said: "A lot of great work goes on at grassroots level due to their funding but how do you produce a credible platform to tell these stories that people are actually going to want to hear and engage with?"

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