Fox, Murdoch and Man Utd

Cod Almighty | Article

by Rich Mills

16 January 2016

Bryan Robson and Chris Smalling want to watch a film. What's all the fuss about? Rich Mills takes a look and reckons it's not so innocent after allĀ 


When Bryan Robson tweeted his enthusiasm for the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Revenant, his first tweet for 24 days, I immediately thought something odd was happening. Back in the day Captain Marvel would surely have shrugged off a few scratches from a bear attack and played on – so why was he enthused about this new movie?

It soon became clear that a number of Robbo's colleagues at Man Utd – fellow ambassador Andy Cole and current players (I use the term loosely) including Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and Juan Mata – were similarly excited about the chance to take their girlfriends to the flicks. Even those who tweeted quite infrequently seemed to be using the same hashtags and linking to the same tweet from the film's official Twitter account.

This was picked up on and investigated by a number of newspapers, including the Manchester Evening News, which reported that the club had silently entered into a partnership with 20th Century Fox, the film's distributors.

So why should we – Grimsby Town fans and fans of football in general – be bothered? We know our media is manipulated, don't we? Many of our national newspapers are part of wider, larger publishing and broadcasting groups, and the owners of these are in bed with political parties at a very high level. That's a given.

For example, Rupert Murdoch and his family own the Sun, the Times, and Sky. Now, not content with manipulating the political agenda in the UK, he (a naturalised US citizen) is trying to steer the debate in the States toward the right. Why would he do that? I can't think of any good reason for it; he's hardly a Bill Gates-style philanthropist. More importantly, why do we as a nation allow it?

Picture some lowly communications assistant pretending to be Robbo, Andy Cole or Juan Mata as they fire off these commercial tweets. Is that what's happening?

Let's look at Man Utd's links with 20th Century Fox. There's obviously an issue there for Man Utd fans and what this means for their relationship with the club. How can they trust or believe what they hear and read from their club and their heroes? Are the legends and current playing staff obliged to plug a film (they insist no money is changing hands) or like our government, are the majority of the Twitter accounts run centrally? Picture some lowly communications assistant pretending to be Robbo, Andy Cole or Juan Mata as they fire off these commercial tweets. Is that what's happening?

Maybe we can look at this as just another big club seeking to gain greater financial and commercial clout which will lift them back to a position where they can compete with Man City, Barca and Bayern again. The club has to be getting something in return for plugging the movie, right? 

I understand how fans support a club like United, and also how Grimsby fans might follow them as a 'second preference' team. But come on – think carefully about that. This isn't the club that you used to support. It's not the club that Alex Ferguson dragged out of the mire in the 80s. This is a business; this is globalisation. Chequebook brandishing as a sport. The under-the-counter nature of the deal is akin to product placement. So, in the same way we might laugh at a car marque or soft drink clumsily shoehorned into a movie scene, we should treat this hijacking of fans' trust with the contempt it deserves.

Am I going too far? I don't think so. Why else didn't they announce the deal?

Still not bothered? OK then, this: 20th Century Fox is owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, which in turn is owned by 21st Century Fox which was formed by one Rupert Murdoch when he split his News Corp in 2013.

The government at the time of Hillsborough saw football fans as little better than vermin and the Sun propagated that to its readers

To avoid any confusion, that's the same Rupert Murdoch who controls much of our media – and to clarify further, that's the same Rupert Murdoch who, as owner of Sky predecessor British Sky Broadcasting, tried to take over United in 1998. Back then the move was blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission – but here he is again, coming through the back door.

OK, here's my last attempt: Rupert Murdoch and his corporations hold you, the football fans in utter contempt.

Back in 1989 after the Hillsborough disaster, the Sun published hideous stories, now proven to be outright lies about the behaviour of fans on the day. The government of the day, the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher saw football fans, working-class football fans, as little better than vermin and the Sun propagated that to its readers.

The Sun editor at the time Kelvin MacKenzie once said this about his readership:

“You just don't understand the readers, do you, eh? He's the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and drug dealers. He doesn't want to hear about that stuff (serious news)”

Has his view of the working class changed? Not if his recent performance on BBC Question Time is anything to go by.

Rupert Murdoch owned the Sun at the time of Hillsborough and he effectively owns it now. He owned the News of the World at the time of the phone-hacking scandal. He now owns 20th Century Fox and is getting his claws into football again. I couldn't follow a team with that kind of backing.

If United and Murdoch get away with it then you can bet that more clubs will follow. But as there are relatively few huge media corporations for a club to link with, we should probably worry about the influence a handful of wealthy individuals might wield on a competition if they can link up with more than one club.

A couple of players liking a film? Harmless, you say?

What do you think? Is it just another part of modern football we should accept and move on or should we and Man Utd fans be worried about this? Drop us a line and let us know.

Photo: Monika Flueckiger, World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped from original)