As is my wont as a boring specky bastard, I did some analysis of the traffic on the TF site last week and looked at what the numbers looked like over the last 12 months.

Firstly, it never ceases to amaze me the numbers of folk who log on regularly to the site and the level of readership we have. I’m sure everyone who contributes to TF – ordinary fans opining on the football club they love –  is grateful for your indulgence. No-one can become complacent about that.

Additionally that analysis didn’t include those who listen to Podcasts and buy the fanzine. It’s really humbling and encouraging.

There were some themes over 2020 and whilst I’ll not bore you to tears with all of that detail, the key one is what content attracted the biggest readerships.

That, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the Takeover that never was. Way out in front of everything else that’s been online, the articles published regarding the takeover attracted most clicks. Far more than anything about the stuff going on out the on the green stuff!

News of the Takeover, dominated our waking hours for much of 2020 but as we go into 2021 nothing much has changed and I read back stuff I wrote and sneer at the rare optimism I’d allowed to creep into the way I think about the club. You fool, you silly, hopeless fool Martin!

Now, I don’t imagine for one second that TF was alone in having the Takeover as its number one subject amongst readers, with the largest readership or clicks if you like. The Saudi-led takeover of United was a world-wide story and offered the potential for a step-change in club fortunes and a massive impact upon the PL.

Add into the mix a heady froth of geo-politics, human rights, copyright dispute and TV piracy and there was an apparently endless source of coverage globally, nationally and of course locally. As the takeover ran into sand and the “No Red Flags” crack was exposed as bogus, media sites and outlets were re-energised with discussion around interference in the process from Qatar, the Owners & Directors Test, Premier League connivance and the vested interests of the so-called Top 6.

But then, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, who were putting up 80% of the £350m to purchase United from Ashley withdrew, rejecting PL offers for arbitration (on a decision yet to be made) and registering objections that it appeared the PL wished to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the head of the sovereign state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Owners & Directors Test. That was as unconscionable for the Saudis as it would be for Brits to see the Queen submit to the same process.

And that, for the rest of the world was that. Media attention globally and indeed nationally has more or less ended. No-one was any longer interested because to all intents and purposes nothing is happening.

But there is a point of consideration here in terms of what this means for the business of media.

Globally and nationally, media has bigger fish to fry and won’t waste its time chasing what very much now looks like a dead story. They can get their clicks elsewhere and let’s be honest there is plenty to occupy them. Clicks and advertising revenue is what they chase to stay alive and that won’t be achieved for a world outside the NE constantly sniffing around what to all intents and purposes is a non-takeover.

The position however in the NE is completely different. As I said earlier, the Newcastle United Takeover (sic) was the number one sports story in the region given that it is focused on the only PL club north of Leeds. Newcastle United is by some distance the NE’s biggest club. Always has been, always will be.

I have absolutely no doubt that every single media outlet dedicated to the region – The Chronicle, Shields Gazette/Sunderland Echo, Northern Echo and whoever else give those metrics of coverage far more attention than my clumsy 20 minutes clicking around the workings of a fanzine site.

The takeover then means clicks, advertising and revenue to keep the whole shebang on the road. It’s a money-maker, a source of revenue. I’m pretty certain a bean counter in Trinity Mirror could put a £-sign on how much it has meant for them.

We know regional media is dying on its arse and none moreso than in its football coverage. For PL clubs the relationships they once had with the local paper is meaningless now. I recall an era of The Chronicle’s Alan Oliver traipsing up to SJP for his meetings with Freddie Shepherd and prior to the digital era exploding over the last 15 years, Thomson House (RIP) was largely an extension of what passed for the club’s media operation. They had a mutually beneficial relationship and Alan Oliver’s role in keeping the NE press-pack in check cannot be overstated.

Newcastle United isn’t much different to other PL clubs in not giving much of a toss about the local paper. It is the same the country over and it is only further down the football pyramid where the local press get much of a look-in. In short where clubs and leagues are less of interest to television and receive less of its £.

So then, to survive, those metrics around clicks have to be evaluated and strategies developed in response.

The numbers are telling us and every NE media outlet that Takeover related content will attract clicks. Then what follows that is a direction from media bosses to find angles on the takeover to attract a click. It is a financial reality and I’ll guess were you to visit The Chronicle offices as an example, the walls will be covered in graphs showing where the metrics around how engagement is going– all of the corporate paraphernalia of performance management . I’m not picking on The Chronicle – they are all the same.

In short, takeover coverage sells. We buy it. We are so desperate for it we will apparently click on any old shite if it is remotely related to it. Many of you, like me and my mates laugh at how mental it all is but well, we have to take responsibility for it as we click on it and even though we’ll conclude “load of shite” dismissively. Those analysing the numbers exercise no quality control – the absence of interest in quality is emblematic of how close they are to extinction.

Frankly, some of the stuff I see punted by the local press around the takeover as being of the remotest interest is embarrassing. What someone’s husband RTs is an article in the local paper building it up into something meaningful. A solicitor arranges his snack in a certain way and the local media is all over it. Dumbing down on turbo.

Most laughably are the conclusions drawn from meetings between sovereign states in MENA centred on trade, tariffs, air-space, security as having an immediate impact upon a Newcastle United takeover. I’ve seen journalists on their social media streams link to this coverage and comment “interesting” without elaborating to say why. It’s all just uneducated, wholly unqualified whistling in the dark. It is infantile.

There are others who appear to be desperate to build a USP around the takeover on the thinnest of information.

But here’s a thing. The Public Investment Fund is talking to no-one. Neither is the Premier League. And you’ll get nothing from Mike Ashley or Newcastle United at the best of times. All we currently have is a really vague notion that PIF remain interested in some way. That’s it. Nothing more.

The Public Investment Fund has nothing to do with the legal action Ashley is taking against the PL and were he even to win that action, no-one has elaborated upon what that will mean for the takeover. By that elaboration I mean something substantive rather than hopeful speculation.

As I don’t have the inclination to go searching through miles of social media coverage, I’m not really sure what the Newcastle Consortium of Supporters Limited (NCSL) is about. Neither are the vast majority of supporters who live perfectly well without spending their waking hours on Twitter. I did raise my eyebrows last year when an anonymous twitter account set up a Go Fund page asking for donations to take the PL to court. I’m not the sharpest tool in the box but I was going nowhere near that on the basis of what was available information.

I had a catch-up with a mate of mine who knows far more about this than I do and from what I can gather, NCSL is no longer pursuing any action against the PL under breach of Competition law. Rather NCSL is writing to the Prime Minister and others exhorting them to do something about Newcastle United and the takeover. Haven’t we been here before? Why the change in strategy? Why is this group so opaque in what it is doing? Supporters are entitled to ask questions and it is irrational not to expect that. It doesn’t mean anyone is hostile or anything else. It’s wrong to frame that in such a way.

So, who is benefitting in any way from the embers of the takeover still burning?

Well, the local media is definitely and those gilding a reputation, no matter how laughable as being ITK and connected to international movers and shakers across a vast region of the world.

The key person to benefit from this remaining in the public eye however is Amanda Staveley, whose position should be under closer scrutiny.

Does Staveley have the £18m to pay Ashley as committed if the takeover collapsed? What is Ashley’s position in that regard?

I continue to wonder what PIF would see in Staveley’s continuing use to the deal?

This is the third separate attempt she has made to buy a PL football club – one with Liverpool and twice with Newcastle United. Nothing has happened.

PIF don’t need Staveley’s money. Staveley is promoted as a fixer but she hasn’t fixed a purchase of Newcastle United in coming up to three years. Staveley has no experience in running a PL club. I don’t see what use she is now. Apologies if that sounds harsh, it’s not meant to but I can ask the question without anyone’s toys coming out of their pram. Why should I or anyone else have any confidence in her? More to the point, why should PIF?    

Staveley did manage however to get PIF interested – whether they remain enamoured with her being part of any resurrected deal is subject to debate. I’ve no idea why they would. If there is a legitimate substantive reason for her continued involvement then it would be great to hear it.

But I can see the reasons why she would want this takeover to be kept in the public eye – even if the scope of interest has shrunk to the North East of England. If this takeover is ended then she may be in a lot of financial trouble.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN