Opinion: Leader - Football League has to combat the cynics

The Football League's plans to overhaul the Championship's image defy the tribal loyalties characteristic of the game, and particularly its own 24 success-starved clubs.

Many teams in the Championship (in old days 'league division two') have no problem pulling in the crowds. Despite being the second tier in English football, it says it is the fifth-highest attended league in Europe, a testament to how profound the game is to Britain's culture.

So the league's attempt to gentrify its image is not only about boosting crowd numbers but changing their composition. With Coca-Cola sponsoring the league itself, the emphasis is now on family viewing to make the competition more appealing to further commercial partners.

Football League Championship director Stewart Regan wants to encourage fans to come to grounds earlier and spend more money once they are through the turnstiles. The idea of football clubs being all-round entertainment destinations is fine on a warm sunny day, but surely unrealistic on a wet Wednesday night in February.

A wider range of fans might alter the social composition - and the public image - of the footy terraces as largely the preserve of the working-class white male. But, the fact is that football club allegiance - particularly in the lower leagues where success is harder to come by - remains to a large extent tribal.

Customer loyalty to the Football League Championship per se will be hard to come by. Try getting die-hard fans of fallen giants such as Leeds United and West Ham United to buy into a glossy new Championship league identity. The Championship is a product that is by definition inferior (to the Premiership) and one that clubs aspire to get out of - unless they are overachievers such as Rotherham or Crewe, who are surely content to stay there.

Football fans are a notoriously cynical bunch. Getting the game's loyal constituents on board with this campaign will be the toughest of PR challenges.

prweek@haynet.com.

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