Fans of the new A-League club Western Sydney Wanderers reportedly turned up at a trial match being played by their rivals Sydney FC on Tuesday night and fights broke out, with an ambulance called. Alistair Hogg writes on how the competition’s governing body should approach the situation from a PR perspective. By 11pm tonight no official statement had been received from FFA by SB Insider.
With news of tonight’s fracas between Sydney FC and Western Sydney fans spreading like wildfire on Twitter, Australian football powerbrokers must act swiftly in what is a critical time for the game and a burgeoning club. Here are several things I would do if charged with a role in the FFA’s public relations department:
- Issue a press statement TONIGHT. Not first thing tomorrow, not tomorrow afternoon, but TONIGHT. The sooner the better. If they have to revert to the old “We are investigating the facts, condemn the action but have nothing further to add at this stage” line, then so be it. But at least get on the front foot and have a voice. Be proactive to show fans and the media that you a) are aware and b) care.
- As the incident flared early in the evening, there is plenty of time for daily newspapers to respond. This makes the first point all the more vital, but it would also be worth calling trusted sources at key publications to offer a more non-generic quote.
- Be prepared to line up morning media slots for A-League boss Damien de Bohun. Don’t go to ground if asked for an appearance. Oblige and arm him with simple and carefully worded key messages.
- Depending on the level of coverage the incident attracts, be prepared to hold a doorstop at FFA HQ at some point on Wednesday.
- Order an immediate review of security, including procuring CCTV footage, witness statements, interviewing venue staff and when necessary, talking to police or medical personnel. Make this clear in ALL communication, starting with tonight’s statement.
- Establish a page online where fans can provide completely anonymous information/photos if they were at the venue and know any of the perpetrators. Even if this is fruitless, it demonstrates quick and proactive work by the FFA to stamp out the problem.
- Be clear in stating potential repercussions. While impossible to issue punishments for an ongoing investigation, take the hard line by stating that “life bans are not out of the question” to show the league is serious. Follow through.
- Organise players from both teams to record a joint video in the next 24 hours, reinforcing the message of passion for your club, but also having respect for fellow fans. Emphasis to be placed upon the fact that “we” can’t grow as a sport without the support of the community and that this kind of incident is counter-productive to football a whole.
- Both clubs to send an EDM containing the above video, along with a written statement from their captain. It’s important for this to happen sooner rather than later.
- Provide briefing notes and key messages to the CEO of each club for any media enquiries. Maintain a hard line.
- Send players to visit fans who were injured (but not directly involved) in the fight. Not only is this just the right thing to do, but (perhaps from a more cynical point of view), it publicly shows that the A-League cares deeply about the upshot of fan incidents, as they should.
- If applicable, arrange to pay medical costs for those caught in the crossfire. Be prepared for similar tactics in the build-up to Round 3 when the two sides clash for the first time in a competitive fixture on October 20.
Image: Twitter, by @DamienSuplina