Jonathon Rogers has battled relegation and seen five managers depart from Selhurst Park
In September 2012, Crystal Palace was staring down the barrel of relegation to League One. For Jonathon Rogers, a new assistant communications manager at the club, the position proved to be especially perilous. Relegation would mean a further drop in revenue for the club and the almost certain prospect of unemployment.
But Rogers proved to be a lucky charm for Palace’s surge. “When I first arrived at Palace they were bottom of the Championship,” recalled Rogers. “My first day we won our first game of the season, and 60 days later we were top of the league.”
With promotion to the Premier League, Palace needed to defeat the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal not only on the field but also in the media where the superclubs dominate social and traditional channels. A small-time operation like Palace must compete against massive global brands like Manchester United and Arsenal who employ dozens of media minions to pump out hundreds of original pieces of content a year. “It makes you want to step your game up,” said Rogers of the competition. “It’s strike when the iron’s hot, basically. You want to capture as many fans as you can and get them into the club.”
In the uphill fight against the avalanche of content big clubs pour out, Palace has to get creative. Rogers, in particular, has cultivated a particular flavor of content to connect with new fans. This past summer, as the Premier League club made a pitstop in Philadelphia during the second-leg of its US tour, where they faced off with MLS’s Philadelphia Union, Rodgers took advantage of the town’s heritage.
“Palace in Philadelphia” is a low budget, two-minute homage to Rocky Balboa, and is one of Rogers’ favorite pieces of video that he has ever produced at the club. “When we went to America, we were left to our own devices,” he said. “We could go off and do our own thing and produce funny little videos and do what we wanted, which I think really showed in our work.”
The video culminates with the recreation of the boxer’s famous run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Reaching the top of the steps, Rogers, arms outstretched in victory, proclaims: “Let’s hope that Tony Pulis’ boys are celebrating like this come the end of their game against the Union.” The video might have only garnered a small amount of views—and it’s not something you’d likely see on the YouTube channel of a big budget Premier League side— but, as one YouTube commenter puts it: “The presenter is a fucking legend.”
Visiting the U.S. gave Rogers a lot to think about. He described MLS clubs’ emphasis on social media and in-stadium coverage—something not widely practiced in European stadia. “It’s a great league,” he said. “It’s something I’d definitely be interested in getting involved with in the future as it continues to evolve.”
Then there was the matter of the U.S’s liberal view of locker room access, something next to unheard in the Premier League. “We had requests last year from some of the broadcasters to go in the changing room after the game like you do in American sports,” he said. “The half of me that does my job as a journalist would love to be in there. The other half that’s a public relations person is like, ‘No, it would be a nightmare. An absolute nightmare.’”
If you think Roger’s fears are unjustified, consider this: As the most dominant sport in England, by a long shot, football receives tireless coverage from journalists and tabloids. “The players know if they say something that’s a little embarrassing or controversial, it’s going to get played out everywhere,” he said. Every word is scrutinized, and many times taken out of context.
“The players are absolutely drained physically and mentally after a game,” noted Rogers. “It’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home. On Monday morning it’s completely different. That’s when you can really discuss the game.”
And then there is the club’s manager. Palace has had five since Rogers’ arrival, but the departure of Tony Pulis, in 2014, was by far the strangest and most hectic. “Personally, it was very chaotic,” he said of Pulis’ last-minute resignation from the club. “We had had a good preseason in the States and in Germany and Austria, and things had gone really well.” Rogers and his fellow staff-members had no warning of what was about to come. “Everyone since has asked me, ‘Oh you must have known about it’ but it got dropped on us like a bombshell as well.”
In a matter of days, former Palace boss Neil Warnock was reinstated to keep the club afloat in the Premier League for an unprecedented third consecutive season. But, as with many things in football, it didn’t last long. After a string of bad results before the Christmas Break, Warnock was given the axe just before the new year. Rumors quickly started bubbling that former club legend and then Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who was responsible for a dramatic FA Cup semi-final winner against Liverpool in 1990, would be returning to the club. Pardew was unveiled to the Selhurst Park faithful less than a week later.
“It’s been a hectic start to 2015 for us as a media team but we’re always well prepared for the challenges,” Rogers said. “Now we can focus on football for the remainder of the season.”