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How far do repeated negative appraisals of a team by the media affect players and fans?

By Sir Hardly Anyone

My little job on Untold, as you may have noticed over the past few years, is to write about what the media say about Arsenal.   Some people then write to the site saying we have far too much coverage of the media here, and others suggest I am an idiot, but I usually send the lads round to visit and then quickly change their tune.

But I do look at how the media treat other clubs, and so I wondered what the media might make of Liverpool’s match yesterday.   Here are a few headlines

  • Loris Karius: Liverpool goalkeeper receives death threats after errors
  • British media spares Loris Karius after “career defining” blunders
  • Gary Neville mocks Liverpool with song lyrics about their Champions League final defeat
  • Absolute scenes on Twitter as Liverpool fans tear Karius apart after a disastrous CL final The Kop Times 
  • German theory emerges: Sergio Ramos also injured Liverpool keeper Loris Karius
  • ‘It was disgusting’ – Liverpool players blasted for what they did after Karius horror show
  • Photo: Liverpool winger celebrates yesterday’s trophy win
  • Jeremy Clarkson sends hilarious Instagram message to Liverpool after loss v Real Madrid

It’s a mix as you can see and there are many more representing these various points of view.  And before going on I should explain that when the Liverpool keeper made his error, none of the Liverpool players went to him to show support, they just left him to stand alone.  And the “Liverpool winger celebrates” story is about a ‘Pool man who is on loan to Fulham and who played in the play off final.

Anyway, a fair old mix of reports I’d say, some that you would have expected had Arsenal been playing in a final and suffered such a defeat, but some much more supportive.   The one saying that the British media spares Liverpool is particularly interesting for me as that was my view too – really had it been Arsenal I suspect we would have been pilloried, both by journalists and reports of “Twitter goes into meltdown as Arsenal fans turn on players”.

Indeed the mix is a little refreshing because for much of the time it is not so much a case of reporting the news, as promoting a vision of reality that attracts readers, that we find in the media.   They have an image of the club, certain players, the management, and reality is bent to reflect that vision in all the stories.  If the news was still made on tapestries Arsenal defenders would be shown making errors.

But what I have often wondered is: does the promotion of this vision really change anything, or does it just reinforce existing prejudices?

Although it is not ever discussed in the media – they would never ever admit to changing the emphasis to reflect their standard view of the world – it is something that is discussed in depth in the advertising industry where changing people’s perception of reality is of course what advertising experts do for a living.

Indeed the latest topic of growing interest to advertisers (who really are not so different from reporters – for both just take reality and twist it to fit the vision they are paid to propagate, it is just that people in the advertising industry are generally much more intelligent) is known as “neuromarketing” and it is what fast food, soft drinks and snack companies do all day long on social media and online games as they interact with children.

And although what the media does with football fans is far less sophisticated but it is becoming more sophisticated as the battle for readership in the digital world continues.  But we are not yet at the level that advertisers are at as they pay to gather information through brain scans about how unconscious decisions are made to eat one snack rather than another and in relationship to the targeting people’s susceptibilities.

The results from the food industry about how people feel guilty pleasures from eating or drinking certain products does reveal that most people can be manipulated into doing certain things and thinking certain thoughts by constant refinement of the message.   In the case of the snack Cheetos (note the name) brain scans have shown that people derive a guilty pleasure from eating a snack with that name and ending up with having their fingers coated with orange dust.   An advertising campaign called the Orange Underground, featuring a group of snack-food anarchists who covered their faces with scarves made of Cheetos has been a huge success.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of research, and indeed the general response of non-scientists is that “I am not influenced by the media.”  But companies don’t spend billions of pounds on things that don’t bring profits.

Of course the food industry has vast amounts of money that is thrown at this sort of research, and virtually no one with lots of money researches the way that media treatment of news events affects readers and viewers’ attitudes.   But there seems little reason to think that the effect of reporting and advertising is any different.

The mixed messages about Liverpool’s match yesterday allows people to stay in their own chosen focus and see what they want to see.  When all the messages about a club head the same way, that is when it gets dangerous.

14 comments to How far do repeated negative appraisals of a team by the media affect players and fans?

  • Mark Overmoon

    A very interesting article, thanks. I was saying to a friend just yesterday that if Arsenal do find a bit of form with the addition of Emery et al., it’d be interesting to see how the media react; will they change their tune to Arsenal being a rejuvenated club, or chalk it up to being a fluke.

    An interesting case of the media changing their tune lately was after they had to change their narrative after consistently reporting that Arteta would be our head coach, to Emery. Instead of admitting they may have got it wrong (unthinkable, I know), they reported one of 2 causes: 1) Arsenal had stabbed him in the back, or 2) our measly offer of 50 million plus sales budget put him off. Clearly the common theme in both of those is that of a stingey and incompetent Arsenal leadership. I think we get closer to the real truth when we consider what Ivan Gazidis said before the hiring process: “those that know won’t speak and those that speak don’t know”.

  • Davsta

    I didn’t get to see the game live, only the ITV ha ha lights (highlights). So I’m interested to know if anyone has an opinion on the refs performance? I was absolutely convinced before the game that Real would be victorious. The narrative is all about goal keeping disasters but is the reality that Real managed the game through ref harranging and Liverpool player knobbling? Just curious.

  • Magneto

    An interesting article.

    There has been tons of research done by many social scientists over the years about
    how media treatment of news events affects readers and viewers attitudes.

    Broadly speaking, it is correct to think that the effects of reporting and adverting
    are no different, subject to certain caveats, including the fact that media effects
    tend to be cumulative in nature, with the passage of time being a key factor.

    I think Ivan G’s quote…”those who know won’t speak, those who speak won’t know”,
    is an instant classic.

  • Alexanderhenry

    So far, most of the articles I’ve read on Emery have been positive.

    We’re being linked with all manner players but that’s par for the course for a big club like arsenal.
    Most fans including myself aren’t bothered by the more speculative side of football journalism. I rather like it in fact.

    The overall mood seems to be buoyant going in to next season.

    I’m looking forward to it.

  • Goonereris

    Davsta, while the exit of Salah seemed to affect the starting tempo (even reversed it, somewhat), Real Madrid were always the better and experienced side yesterday; you sensed they would have found a way to win it, no matter what. Referee was excellent in a game with few flared up situations. Their fans may blame the keeper (who’s helped stabilize the team this past season), but it wasn’t going to be their night.

  • Goonereris

    We must not under-estimate what impact a generally negative media has on the output of a team; and Arsenal was at the end of some of the worst and unfair assessments ever, really, and this came to a head last season. So, yes, the club was a victim of the “mob” (media) whose narrative had a “herd” mentality for the fans, consequently. It has to be hard for sportsmen to perform in such circumstances.

    The refs also joined in the fray to mete out some strange decisions on the team, especially in some away games and you got the sense they felt emboldened because when their decisions do result in a Loss for Arsenal, it fitted the narrative of the boys being weak minded or not liking it when they are “roughed up a bit”, etc. When the narrative is negative, consistently, it becomes accepted norm and believeable.

  • Davsta

    Ok thanks Goonereris. It did look to me that Ramos knew exactly what he was doing when driving Salah into the turf. Ok he couldn’t be sure he’d see the player go off injured but could at least expect a bit of reaction, ie a shouting and pushing resulting in a card or whatever. This behaviour of players doesn’t fill me with confidence that a ref is being excellent but compared with the EPL, where having no ref would be a vast improvement on the current officiating, it could easily seem that having a modicum of authority and competence is impressive.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Okay, if the match referee had wanted to, he might have booked or send off Sergio Ramos for rough tackling Mo Salah which resulted to the Egyptian getting a shoulder injury for the Reds that saw him unable to continue playing in the match from the 1st half of it .

    My academics is, had Mo Salah played the entire 90 minutes plus of the match, would R Madrid had won the match on the night? And if Karius, the Red keeper had not made those 2 goalkeeping costly errors that gave Bale the chance to sink Liverpool effectively in the Cup final match which if Liverpool had come out victorious in it would have been a huge success for Jurgen Klopp in his managerial career and for the Liverpool fans too. The absent of Philippe Coutinoh in the Liverpool’s match lineup like against R Madrid last night who they’ve sold to Barca and have not replace him with a like top quality is a huge loss to Liverpool in an European Cup final like in the Ucl Cup final match they played in Kiev yesterday night. A Refs surge of Salah, Coutinoh and Mane would have been overwhelming for R Madrid to ccpe with. Nevertheless, since Liverpool have much money to spend this summer unlike us the Arsenals who can only boast of £50-70m transfer kitty for this summer window, would Liverpool like to sign Moussa Dembele from Barca this summer as replacement to Philippe Coutinoh to see if it’ll work out fine for them? But I am a Gooner for life and not a Reds supporter.

  • Goonereris

    Ramos has been known to have a mean streak in him but he couldn’t have known his defensive action was going to result in a bad injury to Salah. The natural reflex of a defender who is being blocked with an arm by an opposition player (not to speak of one the caliber of Salah) will be to try to gain advantage by ensuring said player is in check. This means both using hands to hold one another with the defender, in this case, keeping hold till danger is averted. That’s the way I saw it, having viewed it a few times.

    It is unfortunate that Salah’s preparations for the WC may be affected; he is one of those players we all look forward to seeing in Russia (us Africans, that is; plus some neutrals and Liverpool fans, of course). He is a strong boy and should make it to the tournament.

    You make a good point, Re the refs situation/perception.

  • jjgsol

    I did not see the match or the highlights, neither do I intend to.

    However, did I not see the statistics of 18 fouls by Liverpool and 6 or something like that by RM?

    All those fouls refereeing errors?

  • Ben

    It’ll be interesting to know how Emery will deal with UK media.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    Alexander Henry
    Maybe you are optimistic for the new season but I have very low expectations after Wenger leaving.
    The Wobs have succeeded in getting rid of Wenger but i can bet they will soon find out what comes next.

    Unai Emery may have success at Seville and Psg but epl is a different ball game .As we know Arsenal are the most hated club among the top 4 or 6 I don’t see the pigmob or the media will reverse their opinion overnight.
    A soft spot may arise after our great French manager has walked away but since Arsenal will not be changing there basic structure with regards to there transfer policy, buying players without involving agents etc, their playing style which will be playing attacking football, the continuation of Wengers model so nothing much will change. The media outlets the ex, players and the Wobs having hatred agenda will continue to malign the club.

    In fact I can see the AAAs and Wobs will soon be turning against the manager and the team after a few bad results.

    Worrying times….

  • gee

    look at the press Harry Rednapp got over Arsene while both were managers.

    You would have thought Wenger was the dodgy dealer and Rednapp was the guy who changed english football.

  • Mike

    From your article I don’t see how you came to the conclusion that the reviews on Liverpool after yesterday is “a mix”, the best you can say is that they’re overwhelmingly negative, especially as regards karius’ performance. Maybe you couldn’t bring yourself to say this since you’ve been telling us for years that Liverpool and Tottenham are the darlings of the press. Well, the truth probably is that every team gets good and bad press, the ratio probably determined by the teams actual performance in relation to expectations/ competition.

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