Guest post: NUFC, social media and Joe Kinnear 2.0
Lifelong Newcastle-supporter Tom Chaplin wants to engage with the club via social media about its decision to recruit Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, but finds the club shouting about branded duvets and luggage. You couldn’t make it up. In a previous life I wrote the 2009 plays ‘You Couldn't Make It Up’ and ‘You Really Couldn't Make It Up’ with my dad Michael Chaplin for Newcastle's Live Theatre.
It was, I suppose you could describe it, an exposé of everything that was wrong with modern football. We examined in a piece of verbatim theatre -through the eyes of journalists, commentators, club insiders and its long suffering fans - the slow, painful slide into chaos and ultimately relegation of our dearly beloved Newcastle united.
A Season to Forget
The season of 2008/09 goes down in folklore as the season Newcastle United truly went belly up. Sackings, resignations, overpaid and under performing (and warring) stars. The return (and swift, acrimonious departure) of the ‘messiah’ - club legend Kevin Keegan. The return (and swift, acrimonious departure) of another club legend - former striker Alan Shearer. The season really was the perfect storm. An example - from hapless owner and Sports Direct magnate Mike Ashley - of how not to run a club brimming with potential.
It's hard to believe, four years on, that such a sure-footed talent for ripping public relations defeat from the jaws of victory could remain at the club that Sir Bobby Robson described as the cathedral on the hill. But it does.
Barely twelve months after a shock fifth place finish in the Premier League and a Manager of the Year award for team boss Alan Pardew, Newcastle are - for want of a better phrase - back in the sh*t.
To give Ashley credit there has been some bright spots in the four years since relegation. Instant promotion, cheap tickets, investment in young playing talent, a sensible wage structure, a charge up the league.
But! There have been own goals too. Big ones. The shambolic, booze filled attempt to flog the club to rich investors in alcohol dry Dubai. The renaming of St James Park for cold hard cash. The payday loans shirt sponsorship deal in one of the UK recessions hardest hit cities. And now this…
Cometh the hour, cometh a man…
A poor season on the pitch has led to the rehiring of Joe Kinnear. A man so versed in the art of the public cock up he makes Prince Philip look positively polished. Kinnear was originally brought back from the wilderness (neigh the dark ages) by Ashley to manage the team during the relegation season having been out of the game for years.
Kinnear's first time in charge was nothing if not newsworthy. Five wins in 20 matches. A talent for exaggeration. The now infamous expletive-fueled rant at the press - kick back, enjoy - I'll still be here when you get back. And finally a heart attack that put an end to his season and his time in the job, that resulted in him pinning relegation on everybody and anybody else.
So Kinnear was rehired recently, and this time as Director of Football. The most powerful role at the club for a man so clearly under qualified, it's akin to putting Frank Spencer (ask your parents, kids) in charge of the United Nations.
He announced his arrival ahead of any official announcement with a startling interview with talkSPORT radio full of bold predictions and a bunch of glaring errors. My personal favourites are the mistakes he made in naming his boss Derek Llambias "David Llambeezee", and his star player, Frenchman Yohan Cabaye "Yohan Kebab".
Honestly, you really seriously couldn’t make it up.
Someone’s managing this situation though, right?
Right? Wrong. With my (new) Social hat on, it was something smaller, something more subtle than Kinnear’s ramblings that caught my eye in this whole saga. How were the club handling this loose cannon?
"How is Newcastle's comms team coping with the Kinnear fallout?" I hear you ask. Why, they were doing this of course:
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFCOfficial) June 20, 2013
They were battening down the hatches. Smoke and mirrors. La-la-la, it's not happening. Auto pilot was flicked to on. They seemed to be hoping it would all just go away, which in this connected age is just suicide.
A large number of fans, as you can probably imagine, took to twitter and homed in on the @NUFCOfficial account to vent their fury. Some were vicious, some were humorous, but without fail all showed how much the club meant to them.
All the club had to do to appease critics, to soften the blow as it were, was to engage. Join the debate, even in a measured way. Show the supporters, the ‘customers’ as fans are increasingly being described, that their opinions mattered.
There’s no way of telling, of course, how many NUFC branded suitcases are headed for sunnier climbs this summer as a result of the club’s efforts to flog merchandise via Twitter. A safe bet in the circumstances though is that it wasn’t very effective.
Which all begs the question: why? Why bother with sales tweets? Why have an instant communication tool, a means to engage directly with passionate fans, and not use it?
About the author Tom Chaplin is the Social & Digital Marketing Manager at healthcare software developers Digital Spark, is North East born and bred and a long suffering supporter of Newcastle United. You can follow Tom on Twitter @MrTomChaplin.