Non League Daily

ALGER'S ANGLE: My hopes for the new BT deal

A weekly blog from Alan Alger, former Head of PR for the Conference sponsors for seven seasons - now working outside of the game, but still a keen fan of Non-League football with his ear to the ground.

As exclusively revealed in last week's column, the Football Conference have overhauled their red rose motif and long established name in favour of calling themselves The National League.

The changes will be made official at the annual Congress meeting held in the first week of June. The switch coincides with a new deal with BT Sport which will secure live football from the division for another three seasons. The broadcaster also helping the league to form a new channel of their own which will feed into a weekly highlights package. Another clause will see media apprenticeships fostered at clubs with new equipment funded by the league sponsor and broadcast partner.

On the whole it's a very positive move and one which should, if executed properly, provide an excellent outlet for this level of football - not seen since the days of Setanta showing 50+ matches a season from Non-League's top-flight. That excellent exposure between 2007 and 2009 coincided with the first two seasons of Blue Square's sponsorship of the division. A deal which has taken it's share of knocks from the board of the Conference in recent weeks.

Having worked for the, now defunct, online betting company I find recent comments from media-man Colin Peake and outgoing Chairman Brian Lee rather disappointing. Peake went on the excellent BBC Non-League Show last month to declare the current sponsors of the division the 'most engaging' they'd ever had. While Lee spoke about the rebrand on BT Sport with a reference to now having a 'clean sponsor'. The same Brian Lee who was a happy signatory on two lots of deals that saw betting firm Blue Square invest well over £4 million into the league he chairs.

Peake may feel that his 'engagement' statement is backed up by some welcome initiatives from the new sponsor, but being in his new commercial role since August 2014 he isn't in a place to decide which previous sponsor has been the most engaging. The current sponsor has the benefit of being involved at the peak of the social media age, but even their Twitter account has room for improvement.

I understand that changes were made at the agency responsible for the account after a number of high profile matches went by without any kind of mention. Media values for this season are significantly down on previous campaigns - including the ill-fated Skrill deal. It's very difficult to manage a brand's social media side on top of their core business message of van leasing. For that reason I think they should try and employ a 'Conference' ambassador to interact with fans online.

Someone like Adam Virgo, the co-commentator on the majority of Conference matches on BT, would be ideal. He could put his opinion across on the account and - excuse the marketing term - 'own the conversation'. Anything is better than the current 'Favourite for a Dover Athletic win, Retweet for a Woking win'.

I've made no secret of the fact that I spoke to Vanarama in the summer with a view to continuing my external PR role on behalf of the league. It's a role that sits outside of the Football Conference and is paid for solely by the sponsor as an employer (six of my seven seasons funded by Blue Square, the most recent with Skrill).

While I by no means think I am owed a living having done the job for that length of time, the way the whole process was conducted in July did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Having been promised that a role would be offered, I was then emailed a day before the season started to say that they wished to pursue other avenues in their activation of the deal. It eventually worked out for the best and that's all water under the bridge in terms of my career. I've also enjoyed getting out to games where I can relax and watch the action without being there for a job.

I genuinely hope Vanarama make a success of the sponsorship, because that's important for this level of the game which I'm obviously a big fan of. l also genuinely believe that the hierarchy of the company is made up of football fans who do want the best for the division.

I have to concede that sometimes at Blue Square and especially Skrill I was fighting a losing battle to give the league more prominence among other deals the companies were involved in. That said, Blue Square did put lots into the first five years and fulfilled every term of their deal with a support network which I know for a fact truly benefited the Conference as a division. If Vanarama can achieve that kind of longevity in their current deal then it will surely benefit everyone.

That all starts with the switch to Vanarama National, Vanarama National North and Vanarama National South. The regional distinctions in the feeder divisions along with the word 'national' do not make much sense as it stands, but the principal points of the change have to be welcomed and embraced for the good of the clubs!

And... the Conference name could not get a better sign-off with the way the final weeks are panning out in all three divisions!

​Alan Alger

You can follow me on Twitter @Alan_Alger_ where I would welcome your comments.

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