Interview with Jérôme Touboul, former journalist at L’Equipe and at PSG communication, director of a communication agency to understand how clubs can cope with the phenomenon.
The latest media outlets related to stadium violence have raised a question: How can clubs manage their communication in such situations? Between the desire not to offend its own supporters and the obligation to condemn these events, French clubs often find it difficult to find the right balance. Jerôme Touboul, ex-journalist at L’Equipe, has long followed the phenomenon of hooliganism around PSG before becoming director of sports communication for the Parisian club. The man who now heads his new agency, Sport Influence Consulting, specializing in all forms of communication related to the world of sport, helps us to decipher the crisis communication of clubs.
What is the right crisis communication to use in these hot times?
What is essential on such a subject is that there is ultimately a single discourse and consistency between the communication of the clubs, that of the LFP and that of the public authorities. However, if we take the incidents in Nice at the end of August like those in Lyon on Sunday evening, we did not at all observe this coherence, however essential. Instead of seeing a wall of authority build up over the speeches, there was a division between the actors concerned. Then, the communication chosen must respect a hierarchy: 1. The safety of the public, 2. The safety of the players, 3. The economic and sporting stakes. Finally, and the Sunday evening highlighted this point, much faster communication is needed. It is not tolerable to take two hours to make a decision in the face of such a serious incident. At the end of 15 to 20 minutes maximum, it is necessary to be able to take and announce a clear and irrevocable decision. There is absolutely no room for improvisation. By the way, a question that arises is: does a president do well to present himself hot to the media if he is not solid on his support in his responses. The answer is in the question… Silence is to be banned, but writing can sometimes prove to be, at first, the best mode of communication to apprehend a crisis. Writing often allows you to better specify and qualify your thinking, and to avoid saying too much under the pressure of emotions.
Through their hot reactions, would club leaders be « blinded « by fear of sanctions?
Sanctions are only the consequence of a failing authority in the stadiums. We need sanctions, but we have to admit that they are generally ineffective. From withdrawal of points to closed-door matches through the ban on supporters’ travel, what sanction has stopped this spiral of violence? None… We can even consider that these sanctions are often seen as an injustice and can thus strain the situation even more. What is missing is above all an upstream device. However, clubs tend to underestimate security issues or to dust under the carpet. It is all the more surprising that, without security in its stadium, a club cannot hope to optimize its business. Let us never forget the situation in Italy. Serie A was the biggest championship in the world in the 1980s and 1990s. But by not dealing with scourges such as violence or racism, Italian football has seen its influence wane and, at the end of the chain, it inevitably has lost its economic power.
How to explain that the presidents defend the supporters so much? Is it communication?
Everyone knows that there is on one side the supporters and, on the other, a phenomenon of hooliganism which is developing in the context of a French society in the grip of increasing violence. From there, the challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Club leaders can no longer allow any room for compromise or dialogue with those who spread violence in stadiums. In the background, there is also the observation that football has changed considerably in recent years, and its audience too, with now more families, more women in the stadiums. It has become a great popular show, where it is about bringing together an audience of supporters and an audience of spectators. Therefore, the world of football must find new rules so that the freedom of some does not hinder the enjoyment of others. Take the well-known case of PSG: since 2010, the successive managers of the Parisian club have managed to make these two cultures coexist at the Parc des Princes. Other clubs should learn from this example, keeping in mind this essential guideline: no security, no business.
From a communication point of view, would there be no gain by publicly accepting to be sanctioned?
It should above all be stressed that, if there is no solidarity between the clubs on this priority file, they will all end up devoured by this violence … Hooliganism knows no borders, there are even serious incidents in Ligue 2. Today there is the need for absolute solidarity between the clubs and the League to stand together in the face of this wave of violence. When sanctions fall or new measures are taken to counter this scourge, they must be accepted. It is in the interest of all players in French football. We are talking about a very long-term job here because we never eradicate violence with a snap of the fingers. It takes time, unwavering determination and it takes methods that have already proven their worth. We can cite here an association like Sportitude, which carries out a great deal of awareness-raising and targeting of violent spectators in order to help clubs and public authorities to pacify the football environment.