‘There are pages full of inaccurate blog and website requests’

Menno Pot sees that the gap between Ajax and the traditional media is growing. Something that, according to him, is unfortunate, but also very understandable. According to the Ajax columnist and book author, Amsterdammers had to go against the growing attention.

Due to Ajax’s European successes in recent years, attention for the club has grown enormously. Due to all this increased attention, there is also much more interest in Ajax from the foreign press. There has always been (foreign) media attention for Ajax, but it wasn’t as big as it is now. Ajax has 7 million followers on Instagram, 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and 5.5 million on TikTok. This places Ajax in the top twenty biggest football clubs on the TikTok platform.

You can read weekly interviews with players, former Ajax players and analysts who have something to say about the club. However, Ajax is often seen as a cold club. For example, the club itself would not like to go to the media, they would not be transparent enough and the club would think mainly of itself. Has the “warm” Ajax of the past really given way to cold, cold Ajax?

The link between Ajax and the media in the past

Pot explains that in previous years there were more journalists entering Ajax, certainly before the advent of the Internet. So everything was still on a small scale. It was a time when the Internet did not exist. In fact, there was a small group of journalists writing about Ajax and it was almost welcoming,” says Pot. Journalists hanging around the club were given plenty of space from the Amsterdam club. “They could do whatever they wanted and they could talk to all the players. There was quite a collegial and warm bond.

“At that time, as a camera crew, you could almost walk into the locker room after a game. He could also just stand around the training ground and film. After training you could talk to the players.’ Pot says that at that time everyone was also taken into account. ‘There was a kind of decency policy in that and Ajax thought that was fine too. At that point, all media policy might as well be in the hands of one man (David Endt, ed.)’.

An example of the space given to journalists came to light when Ajax played in Tokyo for the Club World Cup. ‘The AT5 city transmitter could go everywhere at the time. In Tokyo they were even in the same hotel. There’s footage of AT5 rising with Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids and they’re just having a little fun. There were no controls or brakes at the time.

Ajax had no choice

That image is different now. Whereas journalists used to be able to address players with questions after a training session, now only the NOS, ESPN and Ajax itself can conduct player interviews after a match, for example. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, the rest of the media has had to make do with press conferences and interviews by appointment. After the pandemic, Ajax decided to maintain this policy. Pot understands this change in the club very well and can also point out why Ajax had to make this decision.

‘You realized that with the arrival of the Internet the image was changing. Journalists had to be accredited to be able to film during training sessions and do interviews. That was because Ajax then began to drown in requests from websites and from fans asking if they could sit in the press gallery. All those little websites just got a little better. It was an incredible expansion.

‘Everyone wanted someone in the press gallery of their site, newspaper or video channel. While that wasn’t really necessary at all. Miel Brinkhuis (current Ajax press secretary, ed.) once showed me a list of requests for a “normal” match against a club like Willem II. Those were pages full of vague blogs and websites. Ajax had to implement a policy from the moment those applications were exploited. That was perceived by many journalists as unfriendly and cold, but it was simply impossible to do otherwise.”

Only the big media

The policy that Ajax implemented from that point on was that a distinction was made between the major domestic and foreign media on the one hand, and the smaller TV stations, blogs and fan sites on the other. This last group must explain what they come to Ajax to do and why they want to sit in the stands. Ajax then chooses if that makes sense,” says Pot.

Pot finds it ‘deplorable’ that only Ajax itself, the NOS and ESPN continue to conduct player interviews after a match. “Access to players is now limited to their own channels and television rights holders. The independent press is marginalized. It is almost impossible to talk to the players one on one. And that’s a trend you’re seeing all over football right now.

However, the Ajax pundit understands this development. ‘The trend I described from the early days of social media has continued to develop. It has only gotten crazier since then. I understand that they can’t make players available for everything anymore. It’s a delicate boundary and delicate balance though, it would be a shame if that went completely wrong.

Change in the world of football

The change in the world of football is also an important reason for Ajax to adjust its policy. “The world has become very different for gamers. In the past, as a player, you could sit in the locker room with a cigarette and a can of beer. A player today can no longer do that. There has been a lot of attention for football in the media,” says Pot.

‘Many hours and pages are now being filled with football. Anything a player says can now be amplified. According to Pot, in a sense it is the media’s fault that they have gone so far. “It is an interaction between the club and the media. If you look now twenty or thirty years ago, there was only one piece written in the newspaper after a match: a match report. Now that is a page with a match report, background analysis and a framework with interviews. Many more words are spent in ninety minutes of football than thirty years ago. That means you have to be more careful as a player as well.” What also counts is that the show has become much busier for a player. Especially compared to the show of the last century. As a result, players have much less time for other things, like interviews.

Furthermore, under Van der Sar and Overmars, Ajax had expressed the ambition to structurally connect with the international top when it came to attracting Tadic and Blind. For that money was and is needed. In the Netherlands, with the current television contract, the significant existing sponsorship deals and the always full stadiums, sales growth seems much more difficult than outside the borders. For this reason, media policy also acquired a more international character.

The UEFA ranking as a reference

As Pot said earlier: It’s a trend in the world of football for clubs to become less and less accessible to the outside world. “It applies to most of the big clubs in Europe. Ajax is even sacred when you compare it to clubs in England and Spain. The extent to which the independent press still has access to the club is holding back UEFA qualification somewhat. At the top it’s the hardest, and as you go down it gets easier. Since Ajax has moved up the list, it has only become more difficult.”

And according to Pot, it also depends on that UEFA classification whether this development will continue at Ajax. “It will depend on how well the club performs in the next few years. Suppose after this summer everything goes downhill for Ajax and they go back to being a fringe player in Europe, as they did before 2016, then of course the international interest also dwindles and then there may be more breathing room for the Dutch press. If Ajax manages to maintain this high standard and continues to operate in the top twenty in Europe, international interest will also remain high and journalists will have to make do with smaller pieces of Ajax.’

low velzel (Twitter: @BasVelzel † email: b.velzel@ajaxshowtime.com)

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