Media management in Russia – or the Wild East

The weekend before last totally messed up in Russia. We’d the May 1st Holiday on Tuesday, so we were told – you work Saturday as usual and Monday. But you’re off Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Great, however the Russian Premier League is tumbling to a thrilling conclusion, kind of. While colleagues went to their dachas, I was covering matches, with a focus on the Krasnodar-Lokomotiv Moscow game. Had Loko won, they would be Champions.

They were/are within two points of the title. I suggested to two foreign correspondents that this is where they should be. Go walk around the kingdom Galitsky built, see real fans from two impressive clubs and enjoy some sunshine. No, media management rules meant they needed a story.

Krasnodar would have no part in it. Doesn’t matter that the club topping the table have leapt forward in two years, again, media management demands it bleed for it to lead.

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Media management – “Western Style”

The “western” prefix has driven me nuts for decades. Having lived in the Middle East I can ask those who employ “west” and “east” – do you think ISIS distinguishes between a Russian and Brit? But let’s play along with the usefully divisive term.

The potential title decider in Krasnodar’s magnificent monument to the riches of retail won’t have a potential of fan violence, unless Lokomotiv collapse and their fans begin self-flagellating (some are not far from it).

The stadium was filled with families and children, it turned out to be a great fan experience with one, probable, Uzbek National wearing a Krasnodar shirt and waving his nation’s flag after Smolov’s second goal. Russia in a nutshell. No racism or violence here.

Just football and community.

Zenit-CSKA, however, a day before did. Nothing was going to happen, but up to ‘St Petes’ they happily trotted, looking for ‘hooligan-types’ so that they’d have something to send home.

Their brief, task, job or remit is not to inform fans of the exciting title race, or the growing anticipation of the biggest World Cup ever, it’s to sell fear and hate.

I wrote before about getting asked for hooligan contacts from three English outlets in the space of a week. So I played devil’s advocate. I asked two how much is it worth to me to sell out my credibility and potentially lose contacts, or an eye.

I was offered, finally, $1000 from one English news outlet to “Get a couple of beefy guys who were involved in some tear ups around football. And have them wear masks”.

The other wouldn’t budge over $800, but was willing to do the interviews in shadows; $1000 would come in handy right now. Summer is coming and the bikini line would welcome attention, however I made my excuses and left them to it.

Western media management in Russia very often involves creating stories, not reporting the news. Like this beauty on a supposed poisoning and Russian plot that even the target of Russian skullduggery himself ridiculed.

Of course it is reported, retweeted and accepted without any thought of – “Wait, this doesn’t add up.” Who cares, if it’s out there, it must be true.

If you question a story, you are a Kremlin stooge, just as CNN’s Matthew Chance was tarred over his reporting of VVP’s election landslide. There is no debate, just screeching, screaming clowns looking for attention.

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Media management – Po Russki

First, you ensure that your message is totally confused. Second, you throw the chance to get ahead of the story out the window early. Third, by doing part two means you lost the original chance to get the facts out, so make something up, meaning you’re back at step one.

Now, not all outlets are like this. I can honestly say that on Capital Sports we are blessed with a brilliant Program Director who loves sports, who gets sports and who is a radio genius. And the Station Director is like his twin.

Not only that, they like infotainment and know that sport is the ultimate entertainment when done well. As a result our ratings are high and we get great interviewees.

Of course it’s Ekaterina Bychkova who carries the show, but we’re doing well. Yet we are very, very unique and fortunate.

The amount of times I’ve landed in to do an interview, or give an opinion, discuss a topic or simply answer questions, and the journo or host and I have to make things up as we go along.

Often we have to completely change questions handed to us via Editor’s who not only don’t understand sports, they passionately hate them. They’d never say the same about music, or food.

Yet sports gets the Munster treatment, mauled into submission.

Russian media management is simple, they tell the home audience that everyone hates them, that it’s all lies. Same goes for politicians like Mutko, etc. To the waiting, outside world they give a different version. That they’re concerned, serious, changing and so on.

Failing to grasp that there are pay for play journos here in Russia waiting for every misstep and flogging it off to whoever will buy it. And the circle begins again.

A confused message, behind the curve and, you get the rest. Media management in Russia is ruled by fear of many things, sometimes the same as in the west –  telling the truth.

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Football bonanza

This has been, without doubt, one of the best seasons in recent years in Russia. It’s competitive to the last few games, top and bottom of the table. When Loko kicked off in Krasnodar, there was genuine excitement.

Spartak fans are just happy to be getting one over on CSKA, CSKA happy to deny Zenit and that Spartak won’t win. Krasnodar are just happy to be ahead of basket case Kuban. Dinamo are happy to be still in with a chance of hanging onto Premier status.

The Cup Final will be between village club and future bankrupts FC Tosno, who play at Zenit’s old Stadium, and second tier Avangard Kursk.

A team led by former Lokomotiv Moscow goalkeeper and club official Khasanby Bidzhiyev. A team who last year were in the Second Division (third tier) and who are delighted to see former Premier league and regional rivals Fakel Voronezh being relegated and facing liquidation.

Assisting him is former Lokomotiv team mate and Russian International Igor Chugainov.

This is not a minnow team sitting 10th in Russia’s football graveyard. Well, they are, 10th in the graveyard, the point is that they are also 1 win away from European group stage football.

Tosno are fighting for survival in the Premier League, 15th at present, level on points with Anzhi Makhachkala in 14th.

No matter what, at a minimum they’ll have to play off with a second tier side to keep their Premier status, or be like their May 9th rivals, playing in the Europa League group stage while in the Football National League (FNL), our second tier.

With former VfB Stuttgart, Reading and Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak leading their line, they have a chance to score goals. Supported by journeymen Brazilians and ex-Yugoslavs, with some real flair from on loan Krasnodar midfielder Ilya Zhigulyev, Tosno need Europe to stave off massive financial difficulties.

Irony is biting with Kursk, the city not far from the Ukranian border, as their Trudovye Rezervy Stadium might not pass UEFA’s test.

Holding just over 11,000 it is a nice little place but the infrastructure would need a major overhaul. As a result, should they win the cup, they have had talks with the City of Voronezh to hold Europa League matches at the Centralny Stadium.

The Centralny is no South Dublin County Council Stadium, it had a major facelift and hosted Russia-Belgium in 2010, but since it’s home to a low rent market and crumbling.

Yet it is fit and proper to hold at least 20,000 souls in nice blue seats. In any case, the Russian contingent in Europe is going to make some noise.

I watched the Loko game in Capital FM’s partner Irish pub, covering it for two foreign networks by phone and hoping that it’ll be a draw and next week (today) they seal it in the RZD Arena against Zenit. Because I do not fancy an end of season trip to Tula.

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Update: Results all went Loko’s way, except their own. They lost 2-0 to Krasnodar. Afterwards Loko’s manager claimed there is a fifth column within the club who don’t want him there.

Of course this is just his latest whine because he’s not being given access to the pursestrings.

Plus that the quality of player being brought into the club has vastly improved under the stewardship of Gerkus and Stoffelshaus. In any case, he’d done a Roddy Collins and gotten a contract extension.

If ever there was a repeat of what I saw in Malta, where a manager actively set out to lose matches, this is it.

And worse could be coming for Loko and Russian football. Scotland’s Garry O’Connor, who claimed to have blown millions drink and drugs, has let out that he used blood doping in Russia.

While it as over a decade ago and those involved with the club at the time have long gone, already for corrs are greedily digging for a commission.

Russia is a cash cow which, even when dry, can be carved up for more scandal. Media management in Russia has never needed more of a shake up.

Update of updates: Loko beat Zenit 1-0 on Saturday to win the title.

Author Details

Alan Moore
Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and the Capital Sports Stadium Shows at the RZD Arena and writing the odd article. Director of the Russian State Social University College in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produces and hosts #ChampTalks for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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