In the spotlight

Kerry Haywoodin General Interest

What impact does being in the media spotlight have on you and your club? We get expert advice and opinions from industry professionals at: Wrexham Football Club, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Twickenham Stadium and Edgbaston Cricket Club.

Over the past three years, Wrexham AFC have been thrown into the media spotlight - largely due to a Hollywood takeover and a Disney+ docuseries. James Kimmings spoke to Head Groundsman, Paul Chaloner about dealing with increased attention, those documentaries and social media scrutiny.

Back in 2020, was it a shock when you first heard two Hollywood stars; Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney were purchasing the Club?

We actually had a game on the day of the announcement and it had been circulating that something was happening behind the scenes. We all knew it was a Hollywood star, but none of us had any idea who. It was in the fifteenth minute of our game that the official announcement was made that Rob and Ryan were taking over.

At that time, it was COVID lockdown so no fans were in the stadium, but I remember looking at my phone thinking 'this can't be real'? Going into work the next day cemented the reality; there were numerous media outlets including Sky News, BBC News and even American TV channels. The day before, I only saw one man and his dog standing outside. Initially, the increased media attention was uncomfortable, however, as time has passed, it has become a new normal.

John Hennigan (who ran the first series of Welcome to Wrexham on Disney+) came in and integrated with the club before any cameras or film crews arrived - so that helped prepare us for what was to come.

Paul Chaloner

As a result of the takeover, how has the management and development changed?

We used to largely be a volunteer-run club, so the management structure is completely different now. There is a CEO around day-to-day and we also have a pitch consultant on hand.

Obvious investment has come from the takeover, with things such as a 12-month fertiliser programme and the ability to purchase new machinery - whereas before we would have to look into how we can get funding. That side of things has definitely given me more freedom and we have also recruited more staff.

What impact generally has worldwide attention had on the Club?

The club always wanted to make the pitch better, however, finances and not having enough staff limited us. I used to prepare for match days on my own, or with a friend who volunteered to help. Now, we've got a full team of staff and we are presenting the pitch to its best ability - both on matchdays and for the documentaries.

How often are cameras filming at the stadium? Is this added pressure for the team?

Cameras are here every day; filming for the documentary or other projects, so they have become a staple part of the club. Luckily, the crew are really easy to get along with and they have integrated with ease. They make us all feel comfortable and never force anyone into taking part in interviews, or to appear on camera.

Ryan Reynolds (right) and Rob McElhenney flying the Wrexham flag.

In terms of pressure, it is just about rolling with the punches and carrying on with the job. The club are fully supportive of us as a grounds team which helps to take the pressure off. My apprentice Harry has been on a rollercoaster of a career and, so far, he has only ever worked in front of cameras. If he went to another club, it would probably be a shock.

Arguably, the situation has taken the pressure off, as I can now do things which I couldn't do before. I don't have stresses on a match day of my mower not starting up because we now have new equipment and machinery in place.

What is it like when Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds come to town?

Rob and Ryan have been so many times that it has just become the norm. Obviously, when I first met them both I was slightly nervous and shaky. They are two down-to-earth people, who care about the club and want to progress it. Their passion is across all areas and they are focussed on improving everything behind-the-scenes - not just the first team.

When you think about the number of people the pair meet in their life, but then come to Wrexham and they know your name and know who your family are - it's humbling. They have made a real effort to be a part of Wrexham.

I do sometimes get slightly star-struck when certain people visit the stadium. One of my all-time favourite films is Step Brothers, so when Will Ferrell was walking around the pitch, it was a definite pinch-me moment. The key is to be calm and relaxed when someone comes - often the celebrities are really chilled out.

Has the increased coverage opened the floodgates for more social media criticism? How do you cope with this?

There has been a definite increase in social media comments. On one occasion when the weather was bad, we had to call off a game and received numerous comments such as 'concentrate on the pitch' when referencing the documentary.

My best advice would be to try and ignore the comments. I often say to our apprentice: 'Ignore both the positive and the negative - just do your best and ignore the outside noise.' Social media can get you down at times! It happened to me when I was younger, so I have learnt to ignore it.

Has the club been supportive in terms of well-being?

The club were very aware how big the changes were for staff; it was life-changing for me, so having the appropriate support and training certainly helped the transition.

We had someone come in and undertake media training with all staff which was really helpful. It covered what we can post on socials and about being mindful of the content, in case it comes across the wrong way. It's not just about the club protecting their own image, but also about us protecting ourselves.

My social media went from a couple of 100 people to over 1000 in a very short space of time. It's not massive in the grand scheme of things, but it was pretty eye-opening for me. I don't often post on socials, but I think more about the content and tone now.

Do you and the team now have to be more aware about your personal appearance such as clean work clothing with cameras around?

To be honest, I don't think they really care too much about us being mucky - they understand that it can be a dirty job sometimes. It would be more of an issue if we came to work in Nike or Adidas, because the club's sponsor is Macron.

Something which has changed about the uniform is surrounding health and safety and we have an assigned Officer. I used to undertake a lot of my daily tasks in trainers, but now we have proper safety boots.

Any other aspects of change?....

We now have to manage concerts and events which we didn't before. Prior to the takeover, it would be a case of undertaking end-of-season renovations and then the stadium would be locked up for summer. Now, the owners want a revenue stream all year round, which has obviously changed my management of the pitch.

It's now a constant ticking machine and it is both strange and rewarding to see how far it has come in the space of three years. I just keep going, drive forward and do what the club are asking of me and the team. It's nice to be in a much more relaxed position now that I have the foundations, resources and finances. I never thought I would, and it has made things far easier!

Stand and deliver

Links Manager at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, James Bledge, has been in the industry for twenty-seven years and knows the importance of speaking positively.

As Links Manager of an Open Golf Course, you feel somewhat obliged to carry out any media requests that are asked of you, whether this be from industry magazines, turf and golf, television and even local news channels. It is part of the territory and actually very enjoyable, albeit considerably out of any greenkeeper's comfort zone!

In the weeks running up to the Championship, the requests come thick and fast. These are generally arranged by The Club's media officer and could be from media companies that work on the behalf of the club, The R&A or magazines - all of whom would be looking for you to answer certain questions, discuss preparations, give progress reports etc, or even write an article for them. Quite often these requests could take a half day to complete, as camera crews would have specific areas of the course they would like to shoot at. One of the most time-consuming activities are photoshoots, which quite often can involve a large number of the team and are not everyone's cup of tea!

There is a certain skill set you need when undertaking media work around a major Championship. You must always remain super professional and really think about your answers; are they factually spot on, do they reflect the way the club wish to be portrayed, do they reflect the way The R&A wish their championship to be portrayed? - especially during live television. A lot of damage can be done should you slip up and say something that is wrong or comes out in a way you never intended!

Live television especially can be quite intense. Journalists are always after a 'scoop' and they can prey on greenkeepers to run a story. The perfect example at the 2023 Open: when a number of competitors struggled to get out of bunkers, a story ran discussing how greenkeepers had made huge changes to the raking style overnight. This was not actually the case, but as greenkeepers, we need to play our cards close to our chests sometimes - especially when tabloid newspapers are around!

It is important to always speak positively when talking about the course, club or championship. We are very lucky at Royal Liverpool to work in and around a positive environment and I feel this came across well in July.

Personally, I have always enjoyed speaking as a result of being pushed by my mentor Lee Strutt over ten years ago. Standing up in front of people - talking at colleges and conferences - gave me the confidence to talk in front of cameras. These skills help you to manage your team, whether it be with a small team of staff on a Monday morning or in front of fifty volunteers at The Open. It is a skill all modern course managers should possess - whether we are hosting a major championship or not!

Negative comments are louder than the positives

Gary Barwell describes himself as a lad from Leicester; no different and no more hard-working than the guy who cuts the grass for the local team! But, perception and judgement are increased by media attention.

I am judged by more people at a higher level and come under more scrutiny because Warwickshire County Cricket Club is in the media. I have a brilliant Chief Executive and Director of Cricket at Edgbaston, so they support me when media presence is increased.

Regardless if it's pre-season, or the first day of the Ashes, it is just about trying to do your best and set high standards for every game. I am there to take the fall for the team if comments from the media or players are negative. However, if the comments are positive then that's a win for the team. They are responsible for the good stuff.

The Ashes is the highest level of scrutiny you can get, and it comes with ups and downs - although, I probably analyse it from a bigger picture; you can work your hardest, but often the negative comments are louder than the positives. Each time the first ball goes down the wicket, regardless of whether it is on TV or not, I still worry.

In terms of media pressure, the main judgement is when a player makes a comment about the pitch. For example, during the Ashes this year, an England player came out and made a negative comment about the pitch to a big media outlet. It creates a narrative, however, it can also go the other way! A few years back, Eoin Morgan said how good the pitch was and that gives you so much pride.

Be clear and positive

With over twenty years of grounds experience, Jim Buttar, Head Groundsman at Twickenham, has dealt with a wealth of media attention and scrutiny.

Describe some of the challenges of being in the media spotlight and how you overcome them?

I suffer massively from imposter syndrome and really struggle with any focus on what I'm doing regarding media. I have to work really hard on engaging with people who want to know more about me or what I do; it certainly doesn't come naturally to me and I do have to consider what I am doing and saying. Social media is one way of controlling the content I share.

Numerous tournaments receive thousands of visitors from far and wide as well as millions online and live media attention. Can you tell us about how you prepare for this?

I tend to shut off about most of this as it can become too much on the run up to tournaments. My focus is on the job in hand and the planning and preparation, both before and during tournaments. I'm an overthinker, but I dedicate this superstrength to the job in hand. The only time I will 'allow' the noise in is the 5 minutes before kick off and as the teams walk out; I allow the match day buzz to wash over me, to remind me of where I am and why I do what I do.

How do you prepare your team for media attention? Do they all get media training?

All of my team are very amiable and will engage in content capture while working. However, as the lead of the department, I tend to be sought out to do interviews and media work for which I have had training from the GMA.

Do any major events at Twickenham change your approach to the management of the venue?

In terms of our work, we tend to aim for the same high standards we always do. We are aware that we will have increased media engagement and content capture at times, which I am happy for us as a team to participate in - knowing that it brings positive spotlight onto our industry and increases awareness to the general public.

Does it increase stress levels when cameras and media are on site? How do you manage this?

When I first came into the industry, it was very much a distraction at times. I've been fortunate to be in the industry a long time and you do become less aware of the cameras and media; over time it becomes normalised in your work.

How do you deal with the negativity that can come with media scrutiny?

I've been quite fortunate that it hasn't happened that often, but it's hard - especially if you don't have a voice or a platform to share information. I also have to remind myself that it is someone's opinion who doesn't understand the job nor the work involved, or indeed the circumstances which generated the negativity.

In general, what would be your advice for dealing with media spotlight?

Be clear and positive when communicating. Engage with the communications team to help and support you. Certainly consider getting some media training to give you confidence when engaging with the media.

Do you have any tips for turfcare professionals managing their own social media?

Remember, you are leaving a digital footprint for all to see. If you are representing a business as part of your social media, then ensure you are abiding by any policies which may be in place. Also, don't blur the lines between work and home life - if you wish to have personal elements remain private. It's always good to share positive and negative experiences with work. Coming across as normal helps you to engage with the followers who may wish to know more about you and what you do. This is something I am consciously aware of and consider this before I post or make comments. One question I ask myself is "how will this be received and is this ok to share?"

Top Tips for dealing with the media

Be strategic. Think about what it is that you want to share, why you want to share it, and what it is you want to achieve. You need to think about the information you want to convey and where it will be useful.

Take advice - you're not alone. Most of us are connected or know of someone within the media. It's likely you'll have access to people who work with the media regularly, such as a press office or communications officer. Speak to those that can give advice about managing an interview or media appearance.

Don't expect journalists to share your agenda. Be aware. You might be super proud of something that you have done, but this won't necessarily be great news for journalists. They are unlikely to be completely interested in what you are discussing especially media outside of the industry; they will pick up on the story that they want to run.

Have a clear message and deliver it. Use short words and short sentences to communicate your message, and keep it very simple, plain and direct. Journalists receive hundreds of messages a day, so don't overwhelm them and lose them in the first paragraph.

Stay in your comfort zone. We are aware that being in front of a camera is not the norm for many in the industry. This may mean you are not very confident in engaging with the media; if you're unsure, take small steps. If you feel nervous, I wouldn't recommend an interview on live television straight away - try to get some media training and experience first.