Football clubs - reputation and employee relations

Published on: 21/04/2021


Within 48 hours of its announcement, all six of the English clubs involved in the proposed breakaway European Super League have withdrawn from the project as result of outspokeopposition pressure from their own supporters the public including their domestic target audience of TV subscribers and the UK GovernmentAs only three clubs remain, it is clear that the project will not go ahead 

However, this is not the end of the matter. Commercially, the wealthiest football clubs may continue to seek ways to maximise their revenue streams and to gain control of them from football’s national and international governing bodies.  

The one valid point may be that it is unsustainable that those governing bodies currently act as both regulator and commercial agent with an effective risk-free monopoly. 

Legally, the question of which side was in possible breach of competition law may be parked for the time being but it would not be surprising for contractual disputes to rumble on in several jurisdictions. It also remains to be seen whether there will be any sanctions such as points deductions imposed by the governing bodies. 

Perhaps uniquely, what sunk the project was the lack of jeopardy it would have introduced for the clubs involved, which appears to be in their commercial self-interest but goes against the entire tradition and ethos of the sport 

It may have been that this idea was never going to fly but the clubs involved made sure of this by not even bringing their own players and staff on board with the proposals.  

When organisations plan radical changes which impact their public image, it is vital to engage with the employees in advance. This will either get the employees to buy into the idea or reveal that the employees have serious objections, which the leadership should then take into account when deciding whether to moderate its course or not proceed at all. 

In general, Human Resources professionals rarely get asked to contribute to mitigating business risks unrelated to known employee relations matters but the aftermath of the European Super League plan shows that this is short-sighted as the clubs involved now have a big task of regaining employee trust and confidence. 

Employees may underperform or even feel stigmatised by association with their clubs. It is a bad day in Human Resources when employees and possible recruits are questioning the company's ethics and employees and begin to feel ashamed to say who they work for. There may be legal consequences in some cases but generally the issue is about difficulty recruiting or keeping the most talented people and trying to build employee engagement when employees think their leaders are mainly looking after themselves. 

As ever with reputation, a good name takes years to build and minutes to lose. The HR challenge may then be struggling to pick up the pieces and sort out what to tell employees and other stakeholders. 

The recipe for a peaceful life in HR and happy employees is of course to do nothing wrong in the first place or to have a very good story to swiftly tell if accused of wrongdoing, hence it makes much sense for companies to engage more with HR on areas of risk they may be able to identify and help with in advance.  


This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking professional and legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.