Footballers often have to contend with poor reputations despite their high-profile status. In the 2007-08 season, the Premier League decided to showcase the work the 20 Barclays Premier League clubs do for their local communities by running a new campaign, Creating Chances Places for Players.
Local charities, schools and community groups vied to 'win' a player for the day to do with as they wished, and receive a £4,000 donation. The first incarnation of the scheme saw Spurs' Jonathan Woodgate washing the hair of residents at Teesside Hospice, Newcastle's Geremi and Obafemi Martins packing bags at a supermarket, and Manchester United's Owen Hargreaves visiting cancer patients at The Christie Hospital in Manchester.
- To create a high-profile launch event
- To improve public awareness of the contributions made by football clubs and players, and counter negative media coverage surrounding footballers
- To gain positive media coverage for the community programmes, charities and good causes involved.
Strategy and plan
The PR teams split the campaign between them. Lexis PR was in charge of getting charities involved with the scheme. The agency also controlled media relations surrounding the launch event.
The in-house team handled all 200 player appearances. They made sure the partnerships were relevant to the players too. Liverpool striker Ryan Babel was the subject of racist abuse as a youngster, so he helped with a workshop for the anti-racism charity Anthony Walker Foundation.
To show the players the impact their involvement would have, a five-minute DVD presented by former player and pundit Mark Bright and DJ Spoony was produced to encourage them.
Premier League clubs carried Creating Chances info on their websites, match day announcements and programmes.
The Premier League exploited its links with the Government (which jointly funds the Football Foundation along with the FA) and arranged for the Prime Minister to get involved with one of the events. The launch itself was attended by the then culture secretary James Purnell.
Measurement and evaluation
More than 60 million viewings of 80 events on BBC, Sky Sports and Setanta. Thirty international TV features reached an estimated audience of 611 million households.
Print coverage was evaluated as 100 per cent positive. The nationals carried 150 features, and local press covered it 125 times. The Times ran with Woodgate's turnaround from 'public enemy number one', and insisted that the scheme be made compulsory for footballers.
Lexis PR's launch event was covered in a two-hour broadcast by BBC Radio 5 Live. It focused on football's wider responsibilities, interviewing players such as Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt and Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Jonathan Northcroft, chief football correspondent on The Sunday Times, said some of the stories were 'a privilege to cover'.
More than £1m was donated to local causes. Rebecca Bentham, partnership co-ordinator for Scope North West, said the scheme helped raise awareness and promote events, helping raise vital funds.
Even the footballers themselves benefited from the scheme. Everton's Tim Cahill, who visited Listening Ear, a bereavement support service, said: 'This is about creating chances for us as well, to explore who we are as players and what we can do for the community where we play.'
Due to the success of the scheme, Creating Chances will return with its Places for Players campaign in the 2008-09 season. Its target is to donate a further £480,000.
SECOND OPINION - REBECCA HOPKINS, DIRECTOR AT SPORTS SPECIALIST ENS
I first found out about this initiative from a colleague. Having heard the Radio 5 Live broadcast she thought it was a great idea and wanted to discuss if one of our clients could benefit. Given the range of take up, the launch certainly worked.
Football is a very powerful resource to have at your disposal and the national media coverage cited reflects this. I would be interested to see how much of the coverage was in the news and not just the sport sections.
This campaign gave the team a great angle for coverage in local media too. This could be built on by the in-house team or engaging with the clubs and beneficiaries to do far more themselves locally.
Two things do not sit so well, however. Firstly, the suggestion that the players had to have the scheme marketed to them. Then, despite considerable encouragement, not all those who did take part were the biggest stars the Premiership has to offer. The cynic in me suspects Woodgate - or his agent - was aware that he had as much to gain as to give and while it is perfectly legitimate for charitable work to be mutually beneficial, a bigger name would have been better.
I wonder whether the scheme should have been positioned as an initiative driven by the players and clubs - complete with one or two star figureheads - facilitated by football's governing bodies rather than the reverse?
Regardless, it was a clever campaign and the team done good.