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Football Association urged to step in to outlaw club media bans

Will WattThe Football Association is being urged to step in to put an end to the spate of clubs banning the media.

Blackpool Gazette football writer Will Watt made the plea to the sport’s governing body after his newspaper was barred from speaking to players and management staff at Blackpool FC.

While The Gazette has been told the temporary ban will be overturned once the football season starts next month, at present only current “local media partners” are given access to the club’s squad.

Last month Will’s colleague Steve Simpson was locked out of a press conference, which was called to announce the appointment of the club’s new manager Neil McDonald.

It is the latest in a spate of bans issued by clubs which have seen some local newspapers and other media barred from the press box for as long as 14 months.

As reported by HTFP yesterday, Swindon Town has extended its current media ban by axeing pre-match press conferences, while Rotherham United, Newcastle United, Southampton and Port Vale were all involved in media access disputes at some stage last season.

No explanation for the Blackpool ban has yet been forthcoming from the club, which is currently embroiled in a battle between supporters and controversial owners, the Oyston family, over a perceived lack of investment.

On Saturday supporters staged a protest by invading the pitch during a pre-season friendly at Lancaster City, culminating in the game’s abandonment, though no mention was made of the incident in a match report on the club’s website.

In a comment piece for The Gazette, Will wrote: “Events at Lancaster on Saturday were at least good news for journalists – they highlighted what life would be like without us.

“This summer we have experienced the restricted world of controlled reporting at Blackpool FC.

“As you’re probably aware, The Gazette aren’t presently allowed to speak to anyone at Bloomfield Road, though no explanation has been provided by the club. Only ‘local media partners’ are being given access to players and the manager until the season starts.

“I’d like to think most supporters reading our recent coverage wouldn’t have been aware of the lack of access, except perhaps for the rare use of some pretty bland interviews with new signings from the club’s official website.”

He added: “I’m not having a dig at Pool’s media department, who are simply following instructions, their hands are as tied as anyone and social media criticism their way has been a little unfair.

“In truth official club sites like to act like credible sources of journalism, offering ‘exclusives’ and ‘breaking news’, but they can only provide club-sanctioned PR and highly selective reporting. For balanced, objective coverage, that’s where the media comes in.”

Will went on to call for change in the FA’s policy, which would see football clubs banned from banning media outlets.

“Maybe the FA should follow the lead of the NFL in America, which outlaws the practice of clubs banning the media,” he wrote.

Will concluded: “The ‘media partners’ situation isn’t unique to Blackpool. Newcastle recently gave one newspaper and one broadcaster exclusive interviews with new manager Steve McClaren, having struck an agreement with them.

“If those with exclusive access are wary of jeopardising their special status, open and honest reporting is at risk. Toe the company line or you could be out.”

Swindon Town FC announced yesterday that the club would not be holding pre-match press conferences for the forseeable future, with interviews instead being conducted with players by the club’s in-house media team.

The FA has yet to respond to HTFP’s request for a comment on the issue.


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  • July 15, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Like it or not, football clubs are individual businesses and can do what they like when it comes to this, outside of the small number of mandatory opportunities.

    And why should they involve local press? The tools are there to communicate directly with fans… done properly, why not?

    Don’t give me this whole “holding the club to account” thing. Vast majority of local sports journos wouldn’t dare step out of line with their club.

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  • July 15, 2015 at 10:50 am

    The relationship between football clubs and media is an delicate one and difficult to manage, with reporters needing to be diplomats. Papers need good honest, sometimes unfavourable (to clubs) sports coverage to sell papers and website space.
    Clubs used to need papers more in the past, but now have their own ways of reaching fans through social media, so perhaps can afford to be more awkward than before.
    I can think of some once-fine papers that would probably have gone under but for their sports coverage, as the news coverage deteriorated.
    This could go to extra time.

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  • July 15, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    seems like desperation to me,football clubs are no different to any other business,they can pick and choose how much or how little contact they have with local press so its hardly a matter for the FA.
    in many ways the club might lose out by not being exposed to local or national media by choosing to control their own PR but it comes down to the fact that if they dont want to work with external media and have a specific issue with the regional press in the area no amount of whingeing or bleating will change matters

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  • July 15, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Spot on fine city dweller, a non story that will be of no interest to the FA,in the modern media age the regional press sadly no longer carry any weight or influence with football supporters,most have given up publishing post match football specials/ pink uns / green uns which were once a vital source of almost instant football news soon after the game had ended ,now it’s fully instant and free as it happens on line,via mobile or from live TV news feeds. Turning these to digital only editions not only lost revenues they’ve been swamped by the other national football news media sites or by the club themselves issuing minute by minute reports from games and with forums and chat rooms well used by the supporters gaining direct access to the club and players via Twitter.

    yes the local rag can scrape around for tit bits thrown out by the club who control which players get exposure and brief them what to say so its not real news and so by issuing their own PR nothing will change from the readers point of view.
    too many local paper groups have an inflated sense of how important they are to the club and many editors are too busy ingratiating themselves with the clubs to publish any real stories or hard hitting pieces about the club or players for fear of falling out of favour.whilst they continue to do so more clubs will see their local newspaper groups are less and less important to them and do as Swindon town are doing,
    the only losers will be the regionals who rely on huge volumes of football copy to sell their papers.

    As an aside the editor of the local Suffolk daily in Ipswich town territory published a running countdown clock to local East Anglian rivals Norwich City being relegated which was on the front of the paper each day til season end , wind the clock on a few years and he ships up in Norfolk as editor of the Norwich paper and starts trying to curry favour with the same NCFC supporters he was jjibing at when in Suffolk.needless to say his attempts to find favour in Norfolk and with Norwich fans has been a disaster.

    Like it or not,the Regional press needs the clubs more than they need the locals i’m afraid hence this reaction from Blackpool and Wiltshire

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  • July 15, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I’m not sure about all this talk of the regional press being largely irrelevant to football clubs. The coverage these clubs get undoubtedly sparks interest and puts bums on seats. Fans are well aware the coverage on clubs’ websites is often driven by PR whereas they get more impartial coverage in their local papers. Clubs should be a little more grateful sometimes and take criticism on the chin instead of banning journalists.

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  • July 15, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Find myself agreeing with Cecil on this one. Some fantastic football writers across the county at national and local level, but some pretty lazy ones too. Tired hacks doing the same pressers time and time again, asking the same cliched questions and filing the same copy. Most of the time after a new signing unveiling, there’s no difference between what appears in the paper and club website.
    It’s a funny part of the profession. The local football scribe can have an hour with the club chairman or manager and fill their pad with syncophantic puff quotes, which can be spun into a week of 500-word leads. The sports editor will then go into conference each day and sell one for the back page with a straight face.
    You try doing that as the political correspondent. Get a sit-down with the local MP or council chief executive and come back with a load of spin about how great everything is, and see where that gets you. A decent news editor would go nuts.

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  • July 15, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    There are advantages to being cold-shouldered by the local football club. It means you can be as critical as you like without fearing a backlash from the management.
    Any good journalist can find ways round non-co-operation from soccer clubs. In fact, being frozen out offers an exciting challenge – to break scoops you will not find on the weak-as-water website.
    No-one will miss players’ quotes. They’re invariably inane drivel anyway.
    And how many managers say anything worthwhile? Very, very few.
    Think outside the (press) box and tackle soccer coverage from a new, outsider’s angle. Could be interesting – not just for reporters, but readers, too.

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  • July 16, 2015 at 7:16 am

    How often do we actually analyse what we get out of a football club though? Media-managed players and managers that spout the same old lines that fans are frankly bored of.

    They all see themselves as news outlets now so the days of the exclusive are pretty much gone – and ‘exclusive’ chat are often variations on the theme.

    Surely the future for us has to be looking beyond these lines and creating content that genuinely engages people and sparks debate – after all that’s what sport is about isn’t it?

    Fans are intelligent and the same lines trotted out week after week just don’t wash with them.

    Yes there are the nuts and bolts which are a staple of what we do, but is this what the fans are interested in? I don’t think so.

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