Moyes’ PR shortcomings fail Brand United

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Moyes’ PR shortcomings fail Brand United

The story of David Moyes’ tumultuous 10 months at the reigns of the 4th biggest club in world football (based on Deloitte’s recently published revenue data) has been one of image.

In taking charge of the Red Devils, Moyes became not just the manager of a football team but the face of a brand that generates more global press coverage than any other British company.

Arriving from a much revered stint at Everton, Moyes lacked the stature and conviction that only trophies can provide. Understandably therefore, he struggled to win over a team built around a squad which many believed Sir Alex had punching above its weight against the big spending likes of Man City and Chelsea. The title winning United side of 2013-14 was far from vintage; the class of ’92 they were not. Perhaps with one eye on his wine ventures, Sir Alex had, unlike previous seasons, not refreshed his squad. Van Persie, Evra, Ferdinand, Carrick, Giggs, Vidic, all aged 32 or older, have probably peaked. Moyes however lacked the clout to reshuffle his ageing egos; while 11 years of toil on Merseyside had won him many admirers (namely Sir Alex himself), he was exceeded in reputation by the veterans.

What Ferguson had created around his team was an aura of invincibility. He did not merely win trophies but incarnated United’s history and values. The club stood for attacking football and self assurance; in PR terms Moyes’ dealings with the press undermined this image. At press conferences he seemed glum and defensive (as did his team’s increasingly negative style of play), even proclaiming arch-rivals Liverpool as favourites before they visited Old Trafford this season. After their 3-0 triumph, manager Brendan Rodgers said “I would never say that at Liverpool. Even if we were bottom of the league.” Sir Alex, having built an unassailable reputation that gave him enormous weight in the media, usually responded to defeats with anger, a tactic that displaced blame on to the officials or implicitly his players. Moyes’ long, drawn face reacting to another conceded goal became symbolic of United’s demise and looked like an admission of guilt.

Interestingly, Stefan Szymanski argues that most managers have relatively little influence on their teams’ results; professional athletes have got to exactly where they have through self-motivation and self-discipline. Rather, he found that averaged over 10 years in the English and Italian top divisions, the correlation between wage bill and league position is around 90%. Szymanski says only about 10% of managers consistently overachieve relative to there wage bills. It will come as no surprise that the UK’s top overachiever was Sir Alex himself.

In the Sky Sports dominated commercial age, image has become all important for managers. Whereas players rarely speak in public (perhaps for good reason when you look some of the foot-in-mouth moments Twitter has abetted), the manager has become the figure head (and with average Premier League tenures now at just 665 days, the fall guy), for the team. Moyes simply did not grasp the stature of the corporation that he now fronted, a fact presented starkly when, just a few days into his reign, he took the United team to Australia’s Bondi Beach. Whereas his Everton squad had gone relatively unnoticed on their pre-seasons there, his new team were mobbed by fans to such a farcical extent that they were forced to take refuge on a local rooftop bar. It will have come as no coincidence to owners the Glazer family that United’s share price spiked from 17.72 US dollars to 18.60 dollars in the first two hours of trading following Moyes’ departure.

Sport is all about the money for the Glazers, who cannot jeopardise Brand United. So extensive is their commercialisation of the club, that when they announced a groundbreaking deal with DHL to sponsor their training kit, they also acquired an official noodles partner for the Far East. Even executive vice-chairman, and the man who ultimately wielded the axe, is an accountant, having worked for JPMorgan in mergers & acquisitions; indeed he caught their eye when overseeing their takeover of the club.

Patrick Jenkins remarks today in the FT that, as with the globalisation of financial service personnel (two of Britain’s big four banks are run by foreigners and, unprecedentedly, there is a Canadian in charge at the Bank of England), the potential replacements are all from much further afield than Glaswegian Moyes. United will hope that their eventual appointment will offer the kind of stabilising forward guidance that Mark Karney has afforded the UK economy.


Alex Morris, Analyst

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