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My Week: Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson Premier LeagueDan Johnson, Premier League Director of Communications on a ‘spy’ at a Premier League meeting…banning journalists…and an Arsenal/Spurs groundshare

Part of the continued appeal of working in football and the media is the varied nature of the issues and never quite knowing what each day is going to bring. It keeps life interesting, challenging and makes sure you’re always on your toes. I have been at the Premier League for 11 years now and plenty of things have changed, but that buzz you get from wondering quite what the day will bring has remained constant.

Tuesday 27th March

First thing a meeting with premierleague.com in-house editorial team to discuss some up-coming activities and campaigns – principally our 20 Seasons Awards launch and our involvement in the government’s ‘Great’ campaign and our ‘takeover’ of their Facebook site in mid-April. These are two exciting, and very different initiatives that require a lot of planning and demonstrate the differing elements that the Premier League encompasses.

The 20 Seasons Awards are a celebration of the football – players, managers, goals, matches – that is fundamentally what the Premier League has to be all about. The challenge is how to best time and communicate all of this at a pretty hectic point in the season. Digital channels like Twitter and Facebook can both help and hinder – once something is communicated it’s everywhere – and we have to be mindful of the needs of our rightsholders and the print media if we want to engage as many fans as possible across all platforms.

The ‘Great’ campaign is both a communications and public affairs activity – No. 10 are keen to showcase the best of Britain in the year of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, so it’s a good thing to be asked to get involved in.

Next to Manchester for the General Assembly of the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) – a chance on the train to catch-up with cuts, Twitter and papers for the upcoming Premier League Shareholders’ meeting on Friday.

The EPFL General Assembly itself is an interesting mix – updates on its activity including a controversial MoU with UEFA meaning that the European leagues accept they can’t schedule matches when Champions League or Europa League games are scheduled. The Premier League has refused to sign – we would never seek to go head-to-head with European games, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

UEFA and FIFA representatives present on Financial Fair Play and the Transfer Monitoring System respectively. There is some good work coming out of both organisations at operational level – we don’t always disagree..!

The evening is spent watching Chelsea’s impressive victory over Benfica in the equally impressive Manchester Town Hall – it’s an official EPFL dinner, but the match is on in the background. At half-time the EPFL’s CSR programme, in partnership with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Football v Hunger receives backing from a European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, and the former Spurs and German international, Stefan Freund. He speaks well – though can’t resist a few mild Euro 96 references. Reminds me that we need to do more to engage with our former stars and get them involved.

Wednesday 28th March

An early start with the 6.35am train back to London with a full deck of newspapers and Twitter on my iPad. Still prefer the real thing – gives you a greater sense of the context and importance of the story seeing how it’s been set out in the paper, though Twitter opens your eyes to how journalists interact with each other and links to some pretty insightful and thoughtful blogs.

Plenty of stories of interest – particularly the FA’s search for a Technical Director, something the Premier League welcomes – though a message goes through to the website to do the story straight and ignore the speculation that the papers can indulge in. Good steers though I’m sure they are…

Jon Woodgate gives legs to the theme that the Premier League has dropped in quality. Always hard to counter these types of story especially when our clubs haven’t performed to their recent high-standard in Europe. The Premier League model has delivered European success and I’m sure it will again – football comes in cycles – and I know our top clubs will be working all the harder to produce teams capable of challenging in Europe in the coming seasons. Oh – and Chelsea might still go on and do something special.

The afternoon is given over to interviewing for premierleague.com editorial positions. The current state and morale of the newspaper industry has produced some quality, and surprising, candidates.

Milan v Barca provides the evening’s entertainment – an enthralling encounter marked out by top defending by Milan and a dodgy pitch.

Thursday 29th March

A big news day, and a sure sign the title-race is hotting up, with a BBC Patrick Vieira interview sparking off headlines and recriminations in equal measure. Most of the media has taken the BBC lead that Vieira’s comments are critical of Manchester United and the favourable penalty decision they received against Fulham. City and Vieira are of the view that they have been heavily spun and the context of the interview was Patrick’s role as a Football v Hunger ambassador – as such they take decision to ban the BBC’s Dan Roan.

I exchange messages with Vicky Kloss, Manchester City’s Chief Communications Officer, who explains the decision and stresses that it wasn’t taken lightly and in no way impacts on the club’s overall relationship with the BBC. I am generally not in favour of banning journalists, like most clubs, including City. I would always rather have the debate, but I can empathise with clubs who sometimes feel it is the only sanction that gets a reaction.

A bit of fire-fighting of our own is required after Nick Hawkins, the Crown Prosecution Service’s lead on football and sports prosecutions, suggests that racist and abusive chanting should be met by clubs having to play behind closed doors or getting docked points. Our view is that criminal behaviour should be prosecuted by the statutory authorities and that football clubs are doing a huge amount to educate and deal with any instances of abuse with high standards of stewarding, CCTV and excellent operational relationships with the police. It would be interesting to see how many reported instances of abuse were taken forward by the CPS I muse to several journalists..

Friday 30th March

Unusual for the Premier League to hold a Shareholders’ Meeting – the 20 member clubs – on a Friday – they are normally on Thursdays – but the fixture schedule doesn’t just affect the matches..!

I know many journalists who would love to get inside one of these meetings and some who manage to get things out of them without even being there. Coincidently, a certain well known sports news diarist was spotted in the hotel foyer…

As you might expect there is little detail I can go into. The time was primarily devoted to broadcast and commercial updates as we reach that point in our three-year commercial term where we start to think about heading out to market with our domestic and international TV rights-packages as well as sponsorship and licensing deals. Fortunately we are going to be doing this off the back of another compelling season of football.

One topic I can report on is around youth development and the adoption of a mandatory games programme for Academy and Reserve football as part of the adoption of the Elite Player Performance Plan. After an informed and intelligent discussion the clubs accept the Executive’s position which will see the Reserve League replaced with a Professinal Development League – primarily under 21s. The rationale behind this is to create a bridge from the Academy to the First Team which will see more and better home-grown players making it. The clubs have been particulary engaged on the development of the EPPP – I think this is because they realise the importance of making sure that a successful Academy structure is at the heart of sustaining the game going forward.

Saturday 31st March

I am on duty, so grab the papers early and type up a full review (around domestic responsibilities) for the Chief Executive, the rest of the Senior Management Team and Press Office.

Match previews and the football generally dominates, as it should do, particularly at this point in the season, with the exception of the sad news about Stylian Petrov’s diagnosis with acute leukaemia. It is always shocking to see these fit, young men affected this way, particularly off the back of Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest. It is heartening to see the picture he Tweeted of himself sitting up in bed and smiling, which also gets good coverage. These types of incidents do show the positive side of the game with acts of kindness and solidarity for both Fabrice and Stan across the league and through-out the football world.

There is no live televised Premier League football for a change, so Sky’s ever excellent Soccer Saturday augmented by Twitter gets me through the afternoon’s matches. Some cracking games and plenty of the drama and upsets that seem to have set the tone for the season. Plaudits for the action on Twitter and some breathless descriptions from Merson, Le Tissier and Thompson means I am particularly looking forward to Match of the Day.

Shortly after full-time I start to get some calls about a coin throwing incident at the QPR v Arsenal match. After checking with the Professional Game Match Officials General Manager – refs chief in English – Mike Riley, I guide that the assistant is uninjured and that the incident will be going in the referee’s report to the FA. It is the governing body that deals with on and off field discipline.

Sunday 1st April

Same drill on the papers, with Manchester City v Sunderland taking the lead in most – the comeback, the nature of the match and what it says about their title hopes seem to be the main themes. But there is plenty of space for the rest of the League too. We are fortunate to have the plurality of media that produces some excellent sports journalism – be it match reports, story-getting or comment.

One April Fool’s story nearly gets past me and makes it the press review. A fine effort by the Star on Sunday about an Arsenal-Spurs ground-share while White Hart Lane is redeveloped – it was the insistence on a giant cockerel outside the Emirates entrance that gave it away…

The phone is pretty quiet, as it tends to be when there is plenty of football on. I settle down to two very decent Premier League matches – top quality football in front of full-houses. Just how it should be.

Next week will be different if nothing else…

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  1. Pingback: My Week: Dan Johnson | Football Writers' Association | Top Soccer Review

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