Off The Ball, City – Norwich’s End Of Season PR Calamity
This, there can be little doubt, has been a miraculous season for Norwich City to the extent that there is an element to the narrative of the clubs last three seasons. In August 2009, they were adjusting to their first season in the bottom two divisions of the Football League with considerable difficulty. A seven-one defeat at the hands of Colchester United on the opening day of that season, a result which brought about the end of former goalkeeper Bryan Gunn’s time in charge of the club.
City acted quickly and brought in Colchester’s manager Paul Lambert as his replacement. It’s not unreasonable to say that this appointment changed the fortunes of the club on a scale that would have seemed unimaginable at the time. Promotion to the Championship might have been expected, but a second successive promotion into the Premier League certainly wasn’t and a comfortable first season amongst the elite that will end in a mid-table finish has been even less so. Considering all of this, we should reasonably expect there to be a celebratory air around the end of this season, but a sudden flurry of bad publicity is threatening to cast something of a cloud over any celebrations.
Chris Brown in a seventeen year old IT student who supports Norwich City. On Tuesday night, he was looking at the source code for the clubs official website – which was being updated at the time – when he came across a picture of the team’s new kit for next season, which was due to be officially released on Wednesday morning. Excited by his find, Brown the pictures on Twitter and a couple is forums, but he was subsequently called at 4.30 in the morning by the club, demanding an explanation for his actions. He has, of course, apologised for leaking these pictures, but the matter was reported to the local police who have subsequently confirmed “it has been agreed that the matter can by resolved via a face to face meeting.”
There are, without a shadow of doubt, questions that should be answered regarding this peculiar little story, but it doesn’t feel as if it is Brown that should be doing this. After all, it is disingenuous to claim that looking at the source code for a website could be interpreted in any way as “hacking.” All modern web browsers offer the facility to view source code and it seems far from unreasonable to consider this to be in the public domain. If the timing if this wasn’t great for Norwich City, then so be it. If they are claiming copyright infringement, then we should bear in mind that it only becomes a criminal matter should the person distributing the copyrighted material should the distributor be profiting from it. This case would appear to be a civil issue and it would be a ridiculously heavy-handed response to such a trivial matter for the club to take it further. Indeed, we might be minded to wonder whether there aren’t better things that club officials could be doing with their time.
It is, however, not the first time that this particular club has acted in such a manner. Last summer, the club demanded that a local brewer and supporter, Colin Emms, cease production of a beer called “On The Ball” which was decorated in the clubs livery. Emms subsequently stated that he had felt “bullied” by the club and that the saga had “certainly tainted my passion for them.” The club’s response was notably lacking in passion: “The clubs position on prolonged misuse of its brand is clear. After fair warning, any continuing misuse will result in further legal action and/or issuing a ban from Carrow Road.” There is case for what the club is trying to say, here, but the wording of it is so heavy-handed as to cause us to begin to wonder whether it is taking its supporters for granted in acting like this.
The club might also wish to stop and consider what actual loss they have suffered as a result of a picture of next seasons kit twelve hours before its official launch. After all, this is Norwich City that we are talking about here. Anybody with so much as half an ounce of common sense would have been able to say that it would be yellow and green, and that this would, on a balance of probabilities, be arranged as a yellow shirt and green shorts. A cottage industry has built up around the ridiculous hype that accompanies the release of football shirts – including the leak of pictures of new shirts days, weeks or even months before their release – but there doesn’t seem to be any specific damage that would have been done to Norwich City by a few hundred people having seen a photograph of next season’s shirt twelve hours before its official release and the reaction to Brown’s actions seems hopelessly disproportionate when we consider what actually happened.
Late last night, Norwich City publicly apologised for the way that they have acted over this matter, but the PR damage may already have been done. After all, a quick search on Google News confirms that this is a story that has been picked up on by the Daily Mail, the BBC, the Huffington Post, Boing Boing and ITV News – some of the biggest news outlets in the world. It is also worth considering that it seems to have been the reaction of other supporters of the club itself which has prompted this volte face. It is to be hope that the club has learned a lesson from this brief and chastening experience, and that it pauses to consider with a little more nuance before defending its intellectual property in the future.
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