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For the Entertainment Industry, it’s BLM vs ratings

Crystal Palace and the Premier League correctly anticipated the negative impact that Black Lives Matter could have on their image and business, and decided to distance themselves. However, they are not the only organisations that realise this. Entertainment companies will have a choice to make, as people will choose with their wallets.

Following on from my previous article, it’s clear that Arsenal cannot claim to be apolitical when it has acted in a manner that suggests otherwise. Supported by the Premier League (PL), Arsenal proudly supported the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement whilst distancing themselves from Mesut Ozil’s comments, going so far as to release a statement. Hector Bellerin received no such treatment despite sharing his own political opinion, which was much more opinionated than Ozil’s. The reasons why Arsenal chose to be selective are debatable, but it does leave a bad taste in the mouths of Arsenal supporters. Of course, Arsenal is not the only PL club to support the BLM movement; Crystal Palace also did so and initially echoed the collective idea that BLM stands solely for racial equality (it does not; refer to previous article). However Crystal Palace, unlike Arsenal, recognised that the BLM movement might not be as genuine as it seemed, which led the PL itself to make certain decisions.

Sergeant Matt Ratana was shot dead in Croydon, south London, in September 2020. Photo credit: Neil Donohue, BBC News

Last month, Sergeant Matt Ratana was fatally shot in Croydon, south London, sparking a national outcry at the blatant disrespect that criminals have for law enforcement. As a sign of respect, Crystal Palace held a minute’s silence before their PL match against Everton. A touch of class from the club. However, just like Arsenal and other clubs, Crystal Palace also have Black Lives Matter banners over empty seats. It could be argued that BLM and its supporters have had a major role to play in the increasingly hostile attitude towards the police and law enforcement.  As mentioned in the previous article, prominent BLM activists wish to defund the police, which arguably helps to foster an environment and attitude that is not in the police’s favour, in turn emboldening criminals. It is clear that BLM does not support the police and law enforcement. How then, can Crystal Palace continue to display BLM banners at Selhurst Park? How can they honour a police officer who BLM would mercilessly persecute if they had their own way? This seems illogical and hypocritical.

However, in their defence, Palace did release a statement regarding BLM. It reads “As people will have seen from our first home game, we have placed banners over our seated areas at Selhurst Park that read: BLACK LIVES MATTER. We stand proudly alongside members of the BAME community, our players and employees, and behind the ideals and ethos of “black lives matter”. However, we would like to make clear that we do not endorse any pressure group or body that carries the same term in its name, and we strongly believe that organisations should not use this important force for change and positivity to push their own political agendas. We want to be part of a world that is fair, inclusive and open to all. As an organisation, we recognise that we need to do more, and we will do more to contribute towards this goal.” If Crystal Palace wish not to get involved in ‘political agendas’, then they should remove the BLM banners. BLM have never stood purely for the equal rights of black people since its very inception. You cannot pick and choose which parts of a movement you wish to follow. Either you follow it in its entirety, or you don’t follow at all.

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, in a Premier League match against Aston Villa. Photo credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Thankfully, the PL seemed to also recognize that the BLM movement isn’t as innocent as it seems to be. The PL replaced the BLM slogan with the ‘No Room for Racism’ badge, which will be worn by the players just below the PL logo on their sleeves, at the beginning of the 20/21 season. According to a report by the Guardian, policies endorsed by BLM (including defunding the police) “proved uncomfortable for the league”. PL chief executive Richard Masters said “we’re drawing a clear distinction between a moral cause and a political movement”. The aforementioned statement by Masters is a clear recognition and acknowledgment of the BLM movement as a political force, not merely a moral cause. It vindicates those who wish to not align themselves with the movement due to this very reason, and forces those who insist on viewing it as purely a moral issue to rethink their choices. Such is the influence of BLM in modern society, that one could be fooled into thinking that the PL is making the wrong move by dissociating themselves from the movement, but this could not be further from the truth. It is possible to view the subject of racism through a non-BLM lens; the movement does not – and more importantly should not – have a monopoly on the way people view racism. We are not slaves or subservient to it; rather, we are individuals with our own experiences and perspective, capable of reason and logic.

Unfortunately for movements like BLM, they have no faces and therefore no accountability. They can be a force for good and for bad. People are more than happy to be selective as long as it benefits them. If the movement does something laudable, people are more than willing to support it. If the opposite is true, people abandon it. The PL recognized that the BLM movement is being used as a Trojan horse for more sinister agendas, under the guise of racial equality, and decided to cut ties with it as soon as possible. As the median net worth of an average PL club is worth in excess of £290 million, and the ‘Big Six’ clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) collectively worth £11 billion (as of the 18/19 season), it was clear that the PL had its financial interests to protect, especially as the public become increasingly disillusioned with the movement. It’s unfortunate that the PL concerns itself mainly with finances, but that is simply the reality of the situation.

The Premier League has introduced its ‘No Room for Racism’ patch for the 20/21 season. Photo credit: Liverpool Football Club

It will be interesting to see how this plays out across other forms of entertainment and media. Since dance group Diversity’s controversial performance (inspired by George Floyd’s death), Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) ratings have dropped significantly, to a series low of eight million viewers. Almost immediately after the performance aired, viewing figures fell by 500,000 and sparked 15,00 Ofcom complaints, the second-most complained about programme in its history. ITV, Ofcom and BGT all defended the performance, but it left a bad taste in the mouth of viewers. Ratings for the National Football League in the United States have experienced a similar impact, with the season kickoff game between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs having a 13% drop in viewership, amid support for BLM, kneeling of athletes and a perceived lack of respect for the American flag.

Forward Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool’s 2nd goal against Manchester City at Anfield in a 3-1 victory. Photo credit: Reuters, Arab News

To many (perhaps the silent majority), BLM is more divisive than unifying, and companies (including the PL) will eventually have a choice to make: continue to allow their stars to publicly support BLM and experience ratings (and therefore finances) drop, or make a stand to protect their interests. If people feel uncomfortable with a decision, they will simply vote with their wallets. Whilst it is unfortunate that it comes down to money yet again, it’s often a good way to make sure that people’s voices are heard and accounted for. When livelihoods and money are at risk, action is taken. An unfortunate state of affairs, but also a harsh reality.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt
Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field. Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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