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Augusta National Gets in Touch With its Feminine Side

21 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where Eddie Vedder is a Twins fan…and rocked a Twins batting helmet when the Twins played in Seattle last weekend.  This time, dear readers, I’m not kidding.

Sweet! (credit: FSN North)

The big news in the golf world yesterday was not Sergio Garcia winning a golf tournament (unfortunately for him).  It was Augusta National tossing aside its long-standing rule regarding female membership and inviting Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore to join the club.  I think I join most red-blooded humans in celebrating this watershed moment, and saying…it’s about time.

Yet, while we smile and pat Hootie Johnson and crowd on the back, I think there might be more to this than meets the eye.  You know I’m a cynic when it comes to PR and marketing…well, I read this situation as possibly being a play to make even more money from the Masters and other tournament and course-related assets.

Remember back to last April, when debate raged and a PR firestorm was created about whether or not IBM and its new-at-the-time female CEO would be welcome at The Masters?  Or whether or not IBM should pull its sponsorship of the tournament (one of the biggest there is) over the membership rules?  It didn’t really come to a head or affect the tournament at all, but the seeds were planted for similar debates to take place every year going forward.

Since then, more women have ascended to corporate executive and board roles.  Take Yahoo and now Carlson, just for example.  This was not an issue that was going to fade away…just the opposite, in fact, as more situations like IBM arose between other current/potential sponsors and advertisers.  It’s logical, then, to assume that eventually the club’s stance could have caused one or more sponsors or advertisers to back out…or prospects to drop away.  And that would have ripple effects…if demand is down, then each individual sponsorship/advertisement isn’t worth as much…and CBS also wouldn’t exactly be pleased as the tournament’s exclusive TV partner.

I’m not saying this was the primary reason for the decision…at least, I hope not.  I just pose the thought – did Hootie and company finally recognize that the only check/hindrance on the revenue growth around the tournament (and possibly their own financial interests and/or societal status as club members) was their ancient membership policy, and change it accordingly so they could reap the benefits?  It seems all too plausible to me that this was at least another motive for the move.  The PR boost, in this case, is really just the icing on the cake.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The Handler…Exposed

19 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where it doesn’t take the better part of two weeks to play the College World Series.

(photo credit: Deadspin.com)

I learned this morning that Deadspin now has a regular contributor called “The Handler,” a self-described PR pro with several high-profile athlete clients.  In this second piece in the series, this author tries to expose what he feels the world of working with athletes is really like – deceitful and sordid.  Now, having worked with athletes myself, I don’t doubt any of the alleged stories/details described in the column, as unfortunate as that is to say.  And I won’t even say that The Handler isn’t committed to his clients’ success, as any good PR pro should be.  But…as an accredited and seasoned PR pro myself, I’m concerned about a few things I see in the piece.

First – I’m bothered by The Handler’s apparent motivations here.  In the PR business, our clients and our companies get the spotlight; we are the counselors behind the scenes that help facilitate success, and then over time we build a reputation for good work and high integrity among our peers.  By even writing this piece, it’s clear to me that The Handler is isolated from other pros and tired of watching his clients get all the attention, and he wants some for himself.  Or, at least, he wants some credit for his self-described “professional accomplishments”…which really won’t come anyway because third parties assign credit/expertise, not individuals for themselves.  Ultimately, besides the money Deadspin is likely shelling out for the series, I’d bet The Handler won’t be fulfilled from writing this piece.  Attention and credit are impossible to receive when there’s no one earning the credit or no name for anyone to give attention/credit to.

Second – there are potential ethics breaches that come from this.  On the plus side, The Handler is contributing to the free flow of information and fostering open communication about a subject matter.  He also protects confidential information about his clients…only by not naming them.  (That, of course, would blow up in his face – and likely end his career – if his identity leaks out somehow.)

But that’s where it ends.  Without giving all the details (especially names) the public only gets some of the story and has to guess at the rest.  That’s no way to establish the facts and open up a truly productive debate about the issue at hand.  Also, what self-respecting PR pro in his right mind goes anonymous?  Quite simply, that’s code for “I’m afraid” or the cardinal sin of PR itself, “No comment;” it implies guilt and suggests that even by coming clean, The Handler has called his professionalism and integrity into question.   Finally, and most important, one of the key ethical tenets of PR is to work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession and our clients; if we are not trustworthy, and seen as high-integrity, we cannot function as PR people.  I fear the average Joe reading this will now (again) associate PR with spin doctoring, covering up facts and protecting clients at all costs, legal and illegal.  That’s not what I want others thinking about what we do…because that’s NOT what we do.

Apparently, this column isn’t going away…Deadspin, after all, loves sensational stories that will grab web traffic.  Unfortunately, I have a hunch that means this could be the first of many posts reminding readers of the truths and practices of the PR industry that I know and love, inside and outside of the sports world.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like LaDainian Tomlinson.

BountyGate and the NFLPA

11 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where holding all four Grand Slam tennis titles at once is a regular occurrence.

So much has been made lately of the concussion issue in the NFL.  What I find most fascinating about it is how the NFLPA is treating the issue.  On one hand, they’re working hard to secure benefits and compassion for injured players, especially retired players who didn’t make the millions that today’s athletes do…this played a major role in the labor disagreement that threatened last season.  But on the other hand, they’re now defending the very people who have emerged as a serious threat to their members’ safety.

I’m referring specifically to BountyGate, of course.  The NFLPA, very early on, had a very difficult decision: support the handful of players punished by the NFL and help defend their rights, or endorse Goodell’s rulings and condemn the guilty parties’ actions in a move to underscore their pro-health position for the rest of the league’s current and former players.  This was a decision they must have agonized over, but in the end they chose to support the handful.  The NFLPA is vigorously defending Jonathan Vilma and others, trying to get their suspensions shortened and the like.  I’m here to tell you I think they made the wrong call.

If there’s one thing the NFL and its fans have been adamant about over the past 6-12 months, it is preserving the health of players – current and former.  No one wants to see cases like Junior Seau’s, or others like it.  No one wants to see players carted off a field due to injury.  And, especially, no one wants to see actions on a football field that would be criminal off the field.  The evidence against the BountyGate players and coaches, at least the stuff that’s been released to the public, is jaw-dropping…and rock solid.  Yet the NFLPA still defends the handful, and undercuts its pro-health stance by doing so.  Put another way: by supporting the 1% on this issue, the NFLPA failed to support the 99%.  The result is that the NFLPA has brought into question where it stands on player injuries, and what side it will come down on in the future.

If I were a card-carrying member of the NFLPA (like Chris Kluwe, who’s ranted about this on Twitter @ChrisWarcraft), I’d be seriously concerned about whether or not the union I belong to really has my best interests in mind.  From the fan’s perspective, or the NFL’s, I’m seriously concerned that the NFLPA might not be committed to ensuring that the game continues to grow and prosper for decades to come.  Either of these matters is enough to generate a firestorm of debate and controversy for the NFLPA, and I think it’s only a matter of time before more people inside and outside of the league ask these kinds of hard questions.  The result could change the NFLPA as we know it today.

It’s simple, really: pick a side, and stick with it.  The NFLPA has acted to straddle both sides of the line on the broader topic of player injury, and I think it could blow up in their face before this issue runs its course…if it ever does.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Francisco Liriano.

Why MLB Had to Suspend Cole Hamels

14 May

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we have a four-homer game at least once a season.

Cole Hamels (photo credit: The Bleacher Report)

Last week, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels was suspended five games by Major League Baseball for intentionally beaning young phenom Bryce Harper of the Nationals.  A lot has been made of whether he should have enforced an “unwritten rule” of baseball, or whether he was suspended for hitting him in the first place or actually admitting it.  Personally, I don’t think any of this is really relevant.

MLB had to suspend Cole Hamels, and here’s why: Bryce Harper is the future.  Anytime you hit someone with a pitch, injury can result…and the kinds of injuries and lingering effects that players can sustain are still coming to light.  Bryce Harper is a player that some have compared to Mickey Mantle…he has an incredibly bright future as a top-flight superstar for the Nationals and MLB for years/decades to come.  Where superstars are concerned, so are gate revenues…team brands and fan-building opportunities…jersey sales…team competitiveness…the value of franchises…just to name a few.  It only takes one freak event; an injury to a player like Harper could/would have significant ripple effects and cost many parties money, time, momentum and the like.

Also, if I were MLB, I’d be concerned about preventing this kind of activity from becoming the norm, or discouraging others to follow Hamels’ lead in the future.  Eventually, someone would really get hurt, and the game will suffer.  Five games is significant, but Hamels will only miss one start…his wasn’t a statement-making suspension like the NHL and NFL have been handing down lately.  If anything, MLB missed an opportunity to render a more substantial punishment and more forcefully state its case.

MLB had to issue a swift, significant suspension in order to protect its own long-term interests.  It’s as simple as that.  And I think that most baseball fans, if they stopped and considered all that’s at stake, would agree that MLB did what it had to do to protect the integrity of the game.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Minnesota Twins.

Don’t React: Prevent

6 Feb

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where winning my Super Bowl against-the-spread bets never gets old.

Last week the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation created a serious PR situation for itself.  If you’ve been under a rock, they denied a grant to Planned Parenthood for politically charged reasons.  A media and public firestorm ensued, and after a couple days of growing heat, they changed their tune and said they’d give money to Planned Parenthood after all.

Instead of focusing on the aftermath, like so many PR people have, I’d rather spend my time on something else.  This was a completely preventable, self-generated PR crisis.  Sometimes bad things happen that you have to react to…this was NOT one of those times.  Komen management chose its path, and then couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen.  Ugh.

It’s kind of similar to what happened in pro hockey recently.  The Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins made their trip to the White House to greet the President and receive his congrats on their title, as is tradition for champion teams in sports.  But goaltender (and supposed team leader) Tim Thomas chose not to go, making it known instead that he doesn’t support the government’s actions.  The issue?  He chose to leverage a highly public event to make an individual political statement, at the expense of his teammates and his organization.  The result?  People didn’t celebrate the team’s title – instead, they focused on skewering Thomas, calling him a selfish man and a bad teammate among other things.  Did the hockey world know about his personality before this?  Maybe.  But the average hockey fan sure didn’t, and there’s no doubt Thomas hurt his reputation both in and out of the locker room with his actions.  You’d better believe Thomas will notice the effect on his next free agent contract.

What have we learned?  Two things:

1)  Come on people – think and plan ahead.  Based on the public firestorm and reaction around both events, it seems to me that neither entity really thought through their actions/statements before they made them.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t have done them.  Backlashes like these are completely avoidable with some forethought and common sense.  If they were so naive or insulated as to truly believe there wouldn’t be a backlash, well, they sure learned their lesson.

2)  If you’re going to make a decision/announcement/news event, then at least have the guts to stick by it.  As unpopular as Komen’s decision became, it was made because they felt it was the right thing at the time – and there is a segment of the population out there that would have supported them on that.  Thomas stuck to his guns, but the flip-flopping Komen has only cast doubt among its staff, donors and those they serve about what kind of organization they are and what they really stand for.  The only thing worse than having a negative identity is having no identity at all…until they show who they are now with their actions, and make that case over time, the effects of last week will linger.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Wes Welker.

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