We’ve been doing a lot of work around crisis and how crises are accelerated by social media, at immediate future recently. You might say it’s a passion for us, and it’s also a major worry for many brands who want to protect their reputation online.

However, it seems that one particular industry in the UK feel that they are above negative criticism and don’t worry about alienating their support base. Namely, Premier League football clubs.

Monday saw Mohammed Al Fayed (no stranger to controversy) unveil his much talked about statue of Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage.

He put it here because he can no longer put it in Harrods, completely oblivious to the fact that there is no correlation at all between his team and Michael Jackson.

As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of football could have predicted the backlash from Fulham fans was not exactly positive. Apparently it was a surprise for Al Fayed. His response beggars belief:

“If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift this guy gave to the world they can go to hell. I don’t want them to be fans. If they don’t understand and don’t believe in things I believe in they can go to Chelsea, they can go to anywhere else”.

Can you imagine this response from anyone else in any other industry in the world? The news coverage is littered with quotes from Fulham fans complaining that they are going to be a ‘laughing stock’ because of the statue. Al Fayed and the Fulham board are completely ignoring the customer base and actively telling them to defect to a competitor. Of course, because of the nature of football, they know most people won’t defect – but it is still staggering for a club who aren’t exactly full to capacity every week.

No brand could get away with this, or the various other fails that have affected most Premier League clubs over the years. Even Sky Sports were forced to react during the Andy Gray/Richard Keys crisis, conscious that the Premier League could throw their toys out of the pram and defect to a competitor. Unlikely, but a serious enough threat to Sky’s cash cow to force them into action.

I struggled to think of any brands who could treat their customers in this way and not have their revenue and image irreversibly tarnished. The only one I think who comes close is Apple – there are plenty of documented issues with their products, but their position of pre-eminence within the world of consumer tech is pretty much secure. For now at least.

I wonder how long Premier League clubs can go on in this protected bubble outside of the real business world. All things come to an end, eventually.

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