I don’t have a problem with a sports organization wanting to exert some control over its image. In my graduate class in Public Relations in Wingate University’s Sport Management program we spend some time talking about “reputation management”.But too much obsessing over your public relations can be bad public relations itself. An English soccer club found that out over the weekend when they made news for banning most news photographers from their home games.
Actually, this story in the end may be more about economics than it is about public image. But the gist of it is this — the Southampton Football Club has restricted access by photographers for its home matches this season to an “official” photographer hired by the club. The team hopes to pull in some extra revenue by making its own hand-picked photos available to media outlets for a fee, since these news organizations now can’t send their own shooters.
Nobody took advantage of that take-it-or-leave it deal for Southampton’s season-opening match against Plymouth Argyle last Saturday. And the club, as you might expect, was roundly criticized in the British media for restriction of media access and excessive information control.
Also as you might expect, I’m a little biased about this one and can see some problems — any media organization that plays on the club’s terms allows them to decide what images of the match the public sees. So you’re not likely to get a photo or video of a bad play by the home team, or photos of something else that might be considered “negative” news. A player injury, a brawl in the stands are a couple of things that come to mind.
The Southampton folks aren’t talking very much about this, but say they have no plans to change the policy and don’t have any bad motives. A report I heard about this controversy on the BBC World Service indicated that the club, which plays in the third-tier League One, has attendance problems and has been in bankruptcy in recent years, so they had hoped the move would boost the team’s bottom line.
A Plymouth newspaper found a creative solution to the ban when they sent their staff cartoonist to the match. Chris Robinson’s drawing of Plymouth’s game-winning goal — I’m not sure whether the home team got a picture of that or not — accompanied the game story in the Plymouth Herald. It’s actually a pretty neat image. Here’s a link to it, and some of Robinson’s other images, on the Herald’s website. The BBC interviewed Robinson, who had an interesting insight on his role in the match. As an artist re-creating reality instead of a photographer trying to capture it as it happened, he said he had a lot more freedom to get a feel for the match. As few goals as are scored in most soccer matches, it was liberating not to have to worry about whether you would miss, in the words of legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, “the decisive moment” or not.
And the Herald liked the result so much, they’re thinking about trying it for other matches.
You know, I think I just found the perfect answer for the next time our Communication Studies majors ask me why they have to take an art class!