There is a certain symmetry between the performance of the Football Association and that of the English football team. Both appear to have developed a habit of promising so much, yet delivering so little.
English football's governing body has tried to reinvent its image on a number of occasions. Despite the best efforts of reformers, though, it still lurches from one credibility-crushing episode to another with alarming regularity. Late last year the FA was heavily criticised for its inertia in dealing with the Rio Ferdinand drugs test fiasco, then showed resilience in bouncing back. But it recently found itself facing a public relations disaster over the shambolic handling of Svengate - the fall-out from tabloid revelations that both England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and FA chief executive Mark Palios had had relationships with an FA secretary.
Palios resigned. Data from press monitoring service Presswatch reveals that media coverage of the FA during Svengate was the most negative within the leisure sector.
What is most worrying is that these events have occurred under the 'new' FA - supposedly a professional, commercially-focused entity. This reinvention began back in 1999 with the arrival of Adam Crozier, the then-chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, who was brought in to rebrand the organisation, put an end to its PR gaffes and drag the FA's marketing into the 21st century.
Interestingly, the FA's current sponsors - McDonald's, Umbro, Nationwide, Carlsberg and PepsiCo - have remained tight-lipped about the recent crisis and its impact on the value of future sponsorship deals. We asked Phil Carling, former commercial director at the FA and now senior vice-president and head of football at Octagon, and John Scales, founder of marketing agency Be Sport and former professional footballer, for their views.
DIAGNOSIS 1 - PHIL CARLING, SENIOR VICE-PRESIDENT, OCTAGON
Svengate will doubtless enter public relations courses as the ultimate 'how not to' case study. But it will not have any long-term effect on the FA brand for two reasons: because it is trivial and because the FA is not really a brand.
The FA is an administration, meaning it controls brands such as the England team, the FA Cup, Wembley Stadium and the Community Shield. Svengate has damaged its credibility as a governing body, but has it damaged the sponsors' brands or its core properties?
The FA and its sponsors should consider whether the story would have burned so brightly had it been set in the context of cricket or even rugby.
The impact of these revelations demonstrates the health of football - massive interest, huge exposure, and every demographic.
The underlying sentiment for the England team remains unchanged, and a few decent results might even change perceptions of the coach. Its other brands face many challenges, but Svengate will not be among even the medium-term priorities.
- Forget the FA as a brand and get on with administering the sport, raising participation and creating conditions in which football can flourish.
- Concentrate on, cherish and control the core brand portfolio.
- Reclaim the England logo - use the three lions, which the FA controls, rather than the cross of St George, which is public domain.
- Tighten up employment contracts.
- Win the World Cup.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - JOHN SCALES, FOUNDER, BE SPORT
The FA has an incredibly popular, powerful, engaging and simple product.
It is there to promote and protect the game of football. For the FA to manage the constant evolution of this product at all levels, it has to act as a leader for the domestic game. Unfortunately, this is proving ever more difficult, given that at the highest level a clear conflict exists between itself and other bodies, notably the Premier League.
Headlines dictate the perception of a brand. On this basis the FA has its work cut out. There have been too many high-profile cases of mismanagement on key issues such as drugs misdemeanours, England selection, the Wembley Stadium project and Svengate.
The FA is perceived as ineffective, with the council and its committees constantly clashing with the executive management board. With such a poor public perception, it knows that the brand values it promotes to its corporate partners are weakened.
Sponsorship is all about reflecting in the glory of someone else's work.
If that work is tainted, the FA must worry.
- Improve the management structure.
- Restore credibility through more effective management of current and future critical issues.
- Recruit a chief executive who is universally respected, politically astute, strong in leadership and experienced in the world of football.
- Reorganise the national team set-up. What happens within and around the England team reflects so much of what the FA is about.