OPINION: It's a case of winner takes all in UK media

As the great prizes of another football season were won and lost, those of us professionally involved in the game's image were left with the impression - more overwhelming than ever - that in sports PR, it is 'winner takes all'.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Cameos from the first European Champions League final featuring two English sides illustrate the point. There were the jubilant, dancing players from Manchester United, sending their commercial sponsors into ecstasy at the incalculable brand equity that comes with a globally televised victory. Kit sponsors, publishers and partner brands fortunate to have signed individual rights deals with star players all watched their investments soar.

Chelsea, which lost the Moscow final on penalties, was not even deemed worthy of the traditional runner-up title; instead the players were universally dubbed 'losers'. The fact that it came second out of the 32 clubs that competed for the most prestigious club trophy in the world seemed to count for nothing. Similarly, for Chelsea's array of sponsors and commercial partners, there was nothing beyond the tears and desperation of fine footballers who lost a match by less than a goalpost width.

In the semi-finals of Euro 96 there was enough commercial value in England's penalty misses for Pizza Hut to create memorably lucrative adverts around the failure of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle to score from the penalty spot. In the new climate, it is hard to imagine last week's miss by Chelsea and sometime England skipper John Terry providing work for advertising copywriters, however much they would like to weave their magic around the image of his cruel or comical, depending on allegiance, slip on a greasy pitch.

Within days of the defeat, Chelsea manager Avram Grant was sacked, while news and sports pages were filled with eulogies to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sterling efforts by a posse of diverse PROs drafted in to polish Grant's lugubrious image were rendered futile by his loser status, sealed by his gesture of hurling away his runner-up medal. Arguably, had his team won, the PROs would have been irrelevant, as winning would have forged its own image.

Skilled sports PR professionals are properly in demand to maximise the media dividend from brand partnerships, to manage a raucous tabloid media that often grotesquely unfairly try to create for our sporting heroes feet of clay, and to build and maintain smart and direct relationships between the stars and the media. But in all this endeavour, winning is now the cornerstone.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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