Palace turn to their sponsors for breaking news

ANTON RIPPON reports on some “digital media innovations” at one Premier League club last week which could spell problems for local newspaper football reporters

Do you remember the good old days? You know, when football kicked-off at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. When you panicked if there’d been a cock-up and you hadn’t been allotted a press box telephone – because how else were you going to transmit your copy?

When there was no such body as Football DataCo and you didn’t need a licence to report on – or photograph – a game? When you could speak directly to the manager without first having to go through the club’s “communications department”? Or when the “communications department” was still the press office?

How Palace's shirt sponsors Neteller broke the news about the club's managerial appointment
How Palace’s shirt sponsors Neteller broke the news, via Twitter, about the club’s managerial appointment

Well, just when you probably thought that matters couldn’t get any worse – they have. Crystal Palace has come up with a new way of doing things: next time you want to know what is happening at Selhurst Park, forget the Palace press office and give the club’s shirt sponsors a call.

Last week, Palace chose to announce the appointment of their new (well, you know what I mean) manager, Neil Warnock, through the Twitter account of an online money transfer service that has its name – Neteller – emblazoned upon Palace’s red and blue home shirts (on and their yellow away ones as well).

Luke Tugby, a member of the club’s press staff, wasn’t too pleased. He also resorted to Twitter to explain: “Before criticism comes the way of #cpfc, the decision to have Neteller release before the club’s website is out of our hands.”

Then, not satisfied with this bold new media approach, Palace decided to distribute pictures and quotes from Warnock’s first (this time round, anyway) press conference through the Sportlobster.

You must have heard of Sportlobster. This “sports social network” launched in 2013 and boasts that “… 1.6 million fans have joined the network. Clubs, teams and athletes across a wide and diverse range of sports are using the platform to engage with fans”.

Sportlobster had struck a deal with Palace to become its official social media partner – the first Premier League club to do so. The club says that this will “enable Crystal Palace and its players to engage with fans in a groundbreaking way via the dedicated online sports network. The relationship will also provide Sportlobster with a prominent match-day presence at each of Crystal Palace’s home games, together with access to behind-the-scenes content, which will be shared exclusively with fans on the Sportlobster platform”.

According to www.techweekeurope: “Sport is capable of driving new technologies like nothing else. Satellite broadcasters, high-definition television manufacturers and 4K content providers will tell you that. But can it convert web users, Facebook addicts and prolific Tweeters to a brand new social network?

“Andy Meikle, CEO of Sportlobster, thinks it can, claiming there is a trend driving people towards niche social networks – including social networks specially geared to sport”. Meikle is quoted as claiming that Sportlobster is adding 17,000 users a day.

“The overwhelming majority of these users are sports fans, eager to chat and read about sport, but an increasing number of sports organisations and individuals are also using Sportlobster as a way of engaging fans in a way they can’t on other social networks, which have a broader audience.”

sportlobster logoSo there you have it. Sportlobster aims to become a sort of sporting Facebook or Twitter. Little of Sportlobster’s content appears to be written, or edited, by professional journalists. Much of it is what might be called “user-generated content”, pictures or opinions submitted from fans.

However, there is also another element to Sportlobster’s online registration regime. The journalism website takes up the story: “Like most top-flight clubs, Palace already has a dedicated band of supporters who generate fanzines, websites and podcasts, mostly of pretty decent quality and well-informed. And very well-read, too: one fanzine has 10,000 Twitter followers. Some of the fanzines even provide columns for the local weekly newspapers, of which there are three, plus the Evening Standard.

“None of these outlets demands of their readers that they should permit them full, unfettered access to their Twitter timelines, to see who they follow and who follow them, or require that they should be able to update the subscriber’s profile or even post tweets for them. But Sportlobster does.

“Any Palace fan signing on to Sportlobster through their Faustbook account will grant them access to their public profile, their friends list, their email address and other personal details. It all has the appearance of a not-too-sophisticated data-scraping exercise,” sub-scribe reports.

“Anyone who has the slightest reservations about the amount of personal information they share online with unaccountable third parties will in all likelihood avoid registering with Sportlobster.”

Sportlobster does promise on its homepage: “Don’t worry, we won’t post to your Twitter or Facebook profiles”, but few fans seem to realise what data access they allow by registering.

Clubs making important news announcements via their sponsors clearly presents a number of ethical issues; clubs providing exclusive access to an online outlet which is paying for the privilege, ahead of the local newspaper reporters, agencies or the nationals, is another set of problems altogether. But rumours that Pete the Eagle is about to be replaced as the Selhurst Park matchday mascot by a seven-foot, bright red lobster have yet to be confirmed by Neteller.


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