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PR Lessons from the FA and Sam Allardyce Debacle

It’s been a humiliating couple of weeks for the Football Association and former England Manager Sam Allardyce, after he was forced to resign from his dream job just 67 days in.

The shortest serving England manager in history, Allardyce’s fate was sealed after he was secretly filmed dishing out controversial tips to undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph.

Posing as businessmen from a fictitious Far East firm, the journalists caught Allardyce on camera casually dismissing vital rules that govern the integrity of football, describing them as ‘ridiculous’. He then went on to tell the reporters how to circumvent FA rules banning third parties from owning footballers.

He also struck a deal in principle worth £400,000 to represent the fictitious company and be a keynote speaker at events, despite earning a £3m per year salary.

Crisis talks

Within hours of The Telegraph publishing its revelations, Allardyce was summoned for crisis talks with new FA

Chairman Greg Clarke, and CEO Martin Glenn. But the writing was already on the wall and despite offering a ‘sincere and wholehearted apology’ he left his job ‘by mutual consent’.

The job Allardyce had coveted turned into a nightmare, with headlines across the world reporting the sudden demise of the man who was fondly known as Big Sam.

FA Crisis Comms

To their credit, the English Football Association, with a new and modern-thinking chairman at the helm, acted quickly and decisively in its crisis communications. Allardyce was immediately alerted while on the golf course, summoned to Wembley, and given a chance to put his case forward. Facts were gathered and the FA made a quick decision to avoid the story gathering momentum.

Hours later, FA CEO Martin Glenn made a frank and honest statement saying, ‘it’s been a really painful decision because we’ve only just hired Sam and we think he’s a great fit for England manager. But the FA is about more than just running the England team. We’re the guardians of the game, we set the rules and have to be seen to apply those rules consistently and evenly, whether it’s the England manager or someone lower down in the organisation.’

By responding quickly, openly and honestly, the FA put an abrupt end to the developing crisis, and the whole thing was over in 24 hours.

What about Allardyce’s reputation?

As for Allardyce, although he didn’t technically do anything wrong, he damaged the reputation of his employer and the credibility of his own personal brand. But he did handle himself well amidst the crisis, issuing a short statement showing remorse, and calling his behaviour ‘silly’ and ‘an error of judgement.’

He then abruptly left the UK to go on holiday and avoid the inevitable media storm.

What does the future hold?

Allardyce’s reputation within the football establishment will be damaged for a while. But thanks to the quick actions of the FA and Allardyce’s PR team, the dust will likely settle after a few weeks, and his name will be linked with the inevitable vacant managerial roles following the clubs’ seasonal culls.

Also in Allardyce’s favour, football supporters have short memories. Fans are used to high-profile figures in the game getting embroiled in scandals. And while this is a huge headache for their PR teams, it’s what happens on the pitch that really matters to the fans.

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