Branded Content on the Hooligan Frontlines: Boyle Sports’s Euro 2016 Tie-Up with Stan Collymore

Russian Hooligan Being ArrestedLive video streaming opens both opportunities and risks for brands. Where there’s an element of control – such as a live professional performance – there’s no doubt it can pay dividends. However, there are also more unpredictable situations where pretty much anything can happen. Take, for example, sending a highly controversial former professional footballer with a history of domestic violence into a riot. Because that’s what Boyle Sports, an Irish gambling company, did yesterday.

The man they sent on to the frontlines was none other than Stan Collymore, a veteran whose career saw him play – amongst others – for England, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa. However, while Collymore was unquestionably a gifted footballer, his career was marred by a vicious assault on his girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson in 1998, an attack that was so high profile that it was still being covered by the tabloids as recently as two years ago. In 2004 he was also revealed to have been taking part in dogging at Cannock Chase by The News of the World, which cost him his job at Radio 5 Live.

Resurrecting a Troubled Career

Since then Collymore has managed to build up a successful career as a broadcaster, and over the years he has worked with the BBC, ITV and Talksport. In order to do this he has had to rebuild his reputation of course. In the biography he contributed to, titled ‘Stan: Tackling My Demons‘, he was open about his childhood (Collymore’s father walked out on his family), his struggles with depression and the accompanying struggles with fame which led up to the domestic assault.

He also said he has been diagnosed borderline personality disorder in the same book. Then he has worked with various charities, including Depression Alliance, produced an award-winning documentary about the need for people to be more open about mental health problems in sport, and as part of his partnership with Boyle Sports he predicts results and then they give money to a charity. Suffice to say, he’s a complex character, but on the face of it he seems to be someone who’s making a sincere attempt to put his life back on track.

Yesterday wasn’t any ordinary football gathering. As far as football hooliganism goes, you’d struggle to find a more tense situation. Just a few days ago Russian hooligans had launched a series of orchestrated and extremely violent attacks on England fans in Marseille, to which English fans had responded in kind. Then yesterday Russia were playing in Lille, and England fans had been advised to stay there as Lens (where England are playing Wales today) wouldn’t have the capacity. So it’s fair to say that trouble was inevitable.

At worst, sending a man with Collymore’s background and apparent lack of training into such a tense situation could have had serious consequences – not least for Collymore himself – and at best it was deeply irresponsible on the part of Boyle Sports. But this is a gambling company we’re talking about, and it’s fair to say that most of them seem to be happy to do pretty much anything if it’s going to garner them a few headlines. 

Enter Collymore

So we have an atmosphere that is primed for violence and some of the world’s most notorious hooligans waiting on standby. Enter Stan Collymore, in association with Boyle Sports. Armed only with a mobile phone to live stream on his Periscope channel, Collymore filmed footage that was simultaneously shocking, compelling and comical. The first reported incident of the day took place when when a couple of Russian ‘ultras’ approached a group of lary English fans to throw a banger at them. The English fans responded in kind by running down the street en masse to try and catch their Russian attackers.

Instead of standing back and filming from a distance, Collymore ploughs on in and – clearly full of adrenaline – provides a running commentary that veers between journalism and a celebrity reality show. One minute Collymore is chasing hooligans, the next he’s patiently stopping to pose for a photo with a fan who wants to take a selfie with him.

Collymore the Crime Fighter

At one point Collymore helps French police identify a Russian fan who has been throwing bottles, and shouts down the Russian fan’s professions of innocence. He’s up so close that the police mistake him for a fan at first, and he has to repeatedly shout ‘Journaliste! Journaliste!’ to avoid being arrested. Once the police move in in force, there are times you feel you’re watching an episode of Catchphrase, where ‘say what you see’ is the recommended strategy, as Collymore shouts ‘BANGS EVERYWHERE! TEAR GAS! TEAR GAS! PEPPER SPRAY! PEPPER SPRAY! TEAR GAS!’:

Then at other times Collymore is endearingly human (if untrained) as he tries to make sense of Periscope. At one point he realises might be holding is camera the wrong way (i.e. portrait vs landscape), so he chops and changes while asking the people watching the stream to comment on which they prefer.

The Hooligans Press Collymore’s Emotional Buttons

But the moments when you start to question the wisdom of Boyle Sports sending Collymore into the crowd are those when you see how he handles difficult situations. For example, at one point an English fan starts to sing a song than mentions how he beat Ulrika Jonsson (10.55 in this video, which we can’t embed here). Instead of remaining calm and ignoring the fan, Collymore responds with the very same kind of mindless machismo. “Oh I’m shitting me pants,” he says. “You fucking 18 year old fucking butchers”. Brought to you by Boyle Sports.

As the day goes on and Collymore’s viewing figures soar up to half a million live viewers, some of the more mainstream journalists – in this case Martin Daubney of The Independent – says on Twitter that Collymore isn’t a journalist at all in response to other news outlets reporting that Collymore, a sports journalist, got caught up in the tear gas. Again, Collymore – who had every right to respond – fails to remain calm:

Later on Collymore follows up with another response, which is a golden opportunity to prove Daubney wrong but he hits it wide by signing off with ‘Fuck you very much’.

— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) June 15, 2016

Things took a turn for the surreal later on in the day when Joey Barton, who recently signed for Glasgow Rangers, entered the fray on Twitter (bearing in mind that Barton has 3.2 million Twitter followers). Barton has a lot in common with Collymore. When he was 25 he was jailed for a well-publicised assault where he punched a man 20 times and left him with broken teeth. He is also a similarly controversial character within the sport.

However, as many people were quick to point out on Twitter, it was ironic to see Joey Barton having a pop at Collymore for speaking in French, as one of the things Barton is most famous for is an interview he did in English while speaking in a French accent, back when he was playing for Olympic Marseille:

But Barton being Barton, continues to hound Collymore:

To which Collymore (appropriately) responds:

Thankfully, Collymore made it back to his hotel safely that evening and the only wounds he suffered were to his ego. And if the Twitter comments and the viewing figures were anything to go by, yesterday was a success and there’s no doubt Boyle Sports got their money’s worth:

That said, there were various points where you got the sense that yesterday could have gone horribly wrong for Boyle Sports. Collymore was clearly untrained, unprepared and ill-equipped for this sort of coverage. There’s every chance he could have gotten seriously hurt, and Boyle Sports might have found themselves being forced to answer some very difficult questions today.

But the gamble, no pun intended, paid off. And Boyle Sports and Stan Collymore appear to have come up trumps. While there will be those who seek to replicate similarly irresponsible content (Gazza to Syria, anyone?), there are lessons here for other brands.

Firstly, it will be important for them to think more deeply about the person they’re sending to cover events, the type of events they’re covering, and to ensure they’re properly trained. It’s all very well having a big name, but if they’re the type of person who is likely to encounter abuse on the street, you need to think about how they’re going to handle those situations while broadcasting live, and how that’s going to reflect on your brand. While live video streaming clearly has a place in the branded content world, it seems likely we’re going to some spectacular disasters too. Let’s just hope they’re the entertaining kind and not the type where someone gets seriously hurt.

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