People are often quick to bash the Club’s communication strategy. The Club are quick to respond that they can do no more to improve the strategy. They’re as open and honest as they can be, they say. They publish interviews with the chairmen, the CEO Lee Hoos, and the manager Sean Dyche. That’s transparency, right?
But just because they publish them, it doesn’t mean they’re useful or help clarify things. You see, the game is entrenched in an abundance of cliches and statements of “nothingness”. Because there’s such a demand for content in football – for quotes, interviews, and generally knowledge — the pumps have run dry and we’re left with lazy, false content filled with words that actually mean very little.
Take Lee Hoos, for example. He has a knack for saying a lot without really saying much at all. Hoos is a controversial figure for a number of well known reasons (his ticketing policy, a perceived lack of control – however false this perception is – in the transfer market, and probably because he’s American, knowing Burnley fans) but when NNN met with Hoos back in February, he seemed a genuine guy. He seemed to care about the Club. But he’s cursed with a case of management speak.
Take the most recent statement from Hoos, posted on the official website, for example. Some of it was understandable, but some of it meant absolutely nothing. Here’s two sentences of it, for demonstrative purposes:
“There been speculation about Sean, but he is making plans for the final two games and then next season and how we take the club forward.
“The really important thing now is that if you take two steps forward and one back, you are still going forwards.”
Let’s pull it apart:
There been speculation about Sean
We knew that already, but it’s fair enough that he establishes the context of his comments.
He is making plans for the final two games
Did the aforementioned speculation assert that Sean had stopped doing his job in the meantime?
Then next season and how we take the club forward.
See above. It’s his job to make plans for the future. Why would he stop now, when he’s still under contract? No one was saying he wasn’t making plans, but rather if he’s on a rolling contract as the BBC have reported, there’s a possibility that he could leave. The whole sentence clears literally nothing up.
The really important thing now
Again, he’s establishing context. Fair enough. Maybe he’ll give us some insight into the plans for the future as the sentence goes on.
Is that if you take two steps forward and one back, you are still going forwards.
Oh. It’s just a metaphor. That really wasn’t any good to us. Fans love detail. I think there’d be a genuine appetite for fans to know exactly the plan from here. What’s the general recruitment policy? You’ve told us in that statement we don’t have to sell players, but what about adding them? That’s what we really want to know.
How long is Dyche’s contract? When are talks being held to extend or renew it?
There are burning questions, yet all we get in the statement is the facts that we’re financially sound, we don’t need to sell players, and that the board are “ambitious”. Okay, maybe vaguely interesting to some, but all those facts are essentially common knowledge and easy to work out.
I’m not having a pop at Hoos individually, he’s just an example, because it’s a much wider problem than that. Football is filled with these non-statements and stale press releases. Take a look at any club and you’ll see them. Sky Sports News interviews, where powers that be tend to simply evade the question but also pretend they’re answering it at the same time. And in some ways it’s understandable because stale press releases, statements, and interviews are safe. In an industry of intense media and fan scrutiny, the safe option will always be preferred.
But it’s boring. Absolutely boring. And it makes people think those giving statements are hiding something. The management speak and statements-that-don’t-state-anything make football look aloof and dishonest. Granted, parts of football may be aloof and dishonest, but I’m not sure Lee Hoos is in that camp. If people read things and come out the other side thinking “I’m not really sure what that said” then they’re going to think the communication is bad.
Back in February, after the transfer window, Sean Dyche offered a welcome antidote to the stale and boring press comments and soundbites. In an 11-minute video posted to the Club’s YouTube channel, Dyche spoke at length about the transfer window and was refreshingly honest.
He didn’t avoid the issue, or filibuster the question by speaking platitudes about the transfer window as a concept, his philosophies, or speak about how important it was that we made two steps forward and are taking one step back so we’re still going forward. He dealt with it. And it made a lot of fans more understanding – though not happy – of the situation.
The same goes for the Ashley Barnes incident, where the Club again posted a 10-minute video for Dyche to give his views on the matter. And they were genuine views, not fluff or guff. Dyche is well known for his soundbites — “relentless”, “good group”, “one game at a time”, “market leaders” — but at least on these two occasions, he’s bucked the trend. The Club deserve credit for that too.
But it shouldn’t be hard to answer the questions fans want to know the answers to. Maybe those in football don’t realise how frustrating it is — maybe they’re so caught up in it all that they don’t understand what it looks like from the outside. But we shouldn’t have to ever read between the lines.
If football wants to engage more with its fans, then it needs to sack off the cliches, the management speak, and the statements of nothingness that engulf it.