Is This The End?

May 2, 2008

Recently retired Packers quarterback Brett Favre is one of the most beloved players in NFL history. And one of my favorite non-Browns.

But the truth is I have never seen so much hero worship by sportswriters and announcers in my life, especially towards the end of Favre’s career. Countless Sportscenter and NFL TV personalities have expressed adoration for this legend.

If Wisconsin allowed it, I’m pretty sure Chris Berman would marry Favre.

Chris Berman

 Maybe its the everyman work ethic that helped Favre start 275 consecutive games, an astonishing NFL record at the QB position. Or maybe its his down-home image of a Southern boy made good. Or maybe it’s the fact that Favre may be one of the best quarterbacks ever and he did it as the ultimate gunslinger.

But the truth is that not only is he overrated off the field, he’s been overrated on the field as well. Check out Sal Palantonio’s take on the whole Favre lovefest. Basically, Favre won a Super Bowl title in his prime AND three consecutive MVPs but since then he has not been the greatest ever – just above average. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he is no Joe Montana.

Moreover, off the field he has gotten a free pass despite consistently letting his team wonder if their signature star was coming back or retiring. For each of the past three offseasons the Packers have been unsure if Brett would come back. Favre also admitted to having a painkiller addiction earlier in his career, which should at least dampen all the hype of his consecutive games streak.

But it didn’t, and that’s where the public relations perspective comes in. When he talked about the addiction he explained why he had the addiction (multiple injuries and surgeries) and voluntarily went to rehab. He also was careful to call it a “medical dependency.” Favre also had a history of speaking very frankly with the media and had developed a strong relationship with them. This same trusting relationship is something any public relations person wants to develop with the media and Brett had this.

With the retirement talk, he did not need to do much public relations work. By staying in one city for almost his whole career and playing hard and very well every week, Favre had earned the right to do what he wanted and end his career on his own terms. And his great relationship with the media didn’t hurt. Clearly, Favre knew how to handle people and build relationships. I mean, Chris Berman doesn’t obsess over just anyone!

With Favre retiring, I have also considered that maybe its time for me to hang ‘em up. I mean, my blog is just as legendary, right? Well, maybe not. But like my professor Bill Sledzik, I’m going on hiatus. I’m going to give myself a few weeks, because blogging is really time consuming, even if you love what you’re doing. 

I’d love to get an internship, make some money, or maybe even go to a Tribe game. And with the semester ending, I think now is the right time to focus on school and work. After I give myself some time, I’ll decide whether or not to continue.

I’m going to pull a Brett Favre and hint about coming back, but not make any commitments. Hell, maybe I’ll even go on Letterman and drop hints. For now, I want to thank everyone who has read and posted on my blog and hopefully I’ll be pushing the sports and public relations conversation again in a few weeks.


A Little Change Can Go a Long Way

April 28, 2008

In the past year, I feel like I’ve learned more from school than ever before. I took a few public relations skills courses that really helped me. I also took a visual communications design class that showed me how to use programs like InDesign. Moreover, I’m taking classes for my marketing minor that really have given me some insight into why people buy the way they do.

But all of this pales in comparison to what you can learn from real-life experiences. And while I don’t have any internship experience yet, I DEFINITELY have dealt with event planning through my fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega. The biggest event I’ve planned is our annual spring philanthropy, Cornhole for a Cure. Cornhole for a Cure is a large-scale cornhole tournament that raises money for a cancer victim from the Kent community.A view from above of Cornhole for a Cure

And in event planning, I’ve learned that a few small changes can really make a big difference. Last year, I was put in charge of Cornhole for a Cure with about a month to go before the event. Through sheer force of will and an intense word-of-mouth campaign, as well as excellent communication through the Greek community, we were able to raise $1,000 for Chuck Ciccionetti. Others noticed as well, and Cornhole for a Cure won the Inter-Greek Programming Board Philanthropy of the Year last year.

However, this year I was in charge from the beginning and Cornhole for a Cure has been my focus – my obsession, even. It was our goal to raise double the participation and the money raised from the event. In order to do this, some changes had to be made.

Some new elements I included were a Facebook group and event page that really helped increase awareness. I also sent press releases that were published in both the Daily Kent Stater and the Kent Record Courier. The Facebook group had over 300 members and was a perfect example of how one can use viral marketing and social media to make an impact.

I feel like both were equally important to the success of the event, showing how much we (or at least young people) have become engrossed in internet culture. Another tactic I used was a podcast with AJ Holloway about his cancer-fighting dad to personalize the event for people. I was also able to build upon some of the same tactics of the previous year, like a phone tree for alumni and friends as well as event reminder emails.

After all of these changes, we raised just under $2,000, doubling the money raised to help a friend’s father fight cancer.

To understand just how much a little change can effect even a much bigger event, consider this year’s NFL Draft. A national holiday weekend for the many football-aholics like myself, Roger Goodell shortened the amount of time teams could wait to make picks, to great effect. It made for a much more watchable event. Even the big concerns about the move, that teams would not have enough time to make trades, were unfounded. In fact, the NFL set a league record with 33 draft day trades this year. More importantly, they set up for the future of a primetime broadcast first round.

Regardless of whether an event is a big deal like the NFL draft, or just a local event like Cornhole for a Cure, a little change can go a long way.

 

 


Wide Receiver Gone Wild!

April 14, 2008

Every year in the NFL offseason, the same things occurs. A high profile star holds out, either in attempt to get his contract redone or to get traded from his team to another squad that will pay him. It’s always an interesting study in public relations for both the team, the player and his agent.

This offseason, we’re being treated to the Chad Johnson show. Johnson is a great, flashy receiver who has been a Pro Bowler for five years running. He is also very well-known for his exciting end-zone hijinks - the NFL even put in a rule prohibiting the use of props specifically for Johnson.

To see some of his greatest hits, check this out.

The difference between Chad and some other showboating receivers is that he truly is a great player who plays hard every play and is usually a team player. That’s why his recent attempts to be traded are so bizarre. He has a four-year contract that he signed last year and he wants to renegotiate it or be traded. Could it be that his new agent/contract renegotiator Drew Rosenhaus had some advice for him?

Chad Johnson has gone on Sportscenter and ESPN Radio, as well as other media channels, to make it clear that he is not happy with the team’s direction, even insinuating that a trade was the only way to make things better.

As a sports fan, I am disgusted when players pull these kinds of stunts. But if the player uses a good public relations plan he can help change the opposition to the team. In Johnson’s case, he repeatedly talked about how the team was at fault and they couldn’t put together a winning product instead of how he wants to be paid better. Johnson also said that he felt betrayed by coach Marvin Lewis. Maybe he has some valid points, at least on some level.

But the truth is that all that betrayal could probably be healed with a new contract. The biggest problem is if you re-do his contract, the other big-time players on the team would want to have a new contract as well. And all this does is make the Bengals fight a very difficult public relations battle in the media.

Good luck, Bengals! I think at this point, they may be better ridding themselves of Chad Johnson, no matter how great he is. It’s been too long since Cincinnati valued character and teamwork over stardom – maybe it’s time to make that change. At least your PR staff would have less work to do.


Liar, Liar

April 4, 2008

Jose Canseco is a liar. A somewhat successful whistle-blowing liar, but a liar nonetheless. And that does not make it better.

Canseco has made quite a few dollars on the demise of baseball’s steroid era, Jose Canseco’s “Juiced”mostly because he was a huge part in fueling the era. According to Jose, he was one of the people that introduced such famous stars as Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Jason Giambi.

When his first book, “Juiced” came out, many people were skeptical. But he was on the mark with many of the names, particularly with former teammates, and players of Latino descent. The caveat is that most of these players were obviously users to most people in and around the game.

Consider Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a tremendous power hitter, with bulging biceps and mulitple 40 home run seasons. He also was frequently injured because many of his muscles had become too large for his tendons and body – a common problem for steroid users. It became so bad that in 2005 when Gonzalez was of course with the Indians he injured a hamstring after one at-bat and did not play the rest of the season.

 To be honest, I did not need to be in major league clubhouses to figure out some of these players. But once again, Canseco was proven correct. Which led him to come out with his newest book, “Vindicated.” In this book, he talks about how right he was – which is fair, as much as I hate it.

But this book is light on the goods. In fact, there’s only a few big revelations. But one involves the biggest superstar in the game, Alex Rodriguez. Canseco said he introduced A-Rod to a known steroid supplier. Of course, it’s hard to believe Jose because he openly admits to hating Rodriguez for hitting on his wife.

And Canseco still has so little credibiliity that A-Rod’s best public relations course of action is to deny the accusations and scoff at them. Rodriguez gave no comment and who can blame him?

It doesn’t help Jose’s case that the New York Times reported that he tried to blackmail Magglio Ordonez into paying him off. The Times said he “offered to keep a Detroit Tigers outfielder “clear” in his next book if the player invested money in a film project Canseco was promoting, according to a person in baseball with knowledge of the situation. ” When Ordonez didn’t pay up, Canseco included him in “Vindicated.”

Alex Rodriguez has never been mentioned in baseball circles as a steroid user, and Canseco really didn’t say anything too incriminating. That is why A-Rod made the right choice in saying, “No comment,” and just letting it go.

Canseco has been fighting for shreds of credibility since “Juiced” came out; even as it turned out he was right, he still manages to sabotage himself from a public relations standpoint. Personally, I feel like credibility is one of the most important things a p.r. professional has – and Canseco has lost what little he gained by trying to blackmail Magglio Ordonez.

I will never respect Jose Canseco - he is a self-serving liar who picks and chooses when to tell the truth. If there’s anything I’ve learned at Kent State, it is the importance of ethics. My old ethics professor Rob Jewell would tear Canseco apart for his lack of truth and honesty.

And Jose, if you continue to ruin my Cleveland Indians Opening Day by publishing new books, I will continue to knock you in my blog. Enough is enough! 


King Kong and LeBron

March 26, 2008

LeBron James has been known as King James since he came into the league five years ago. But lately, LeBron and another, less flattering King have been associated together.

This month’s Vogue cover is the cause. LeBron James and supeKing Kong Movie PosterrLeBron James Vogue Covermodel Gisele Bundchen are pictured together. LeBron is only the third male, and the first African-American male, to be on the cover of the fashion magazine. It should have been another shining moment in LeBron’s continued public relations domination.

Instead, by allowing himself to be pictured in an angry, fierce pose, with his arm around Gisele, LeBron is garnering comparisons to King Kong. 

ESPN.com writer Jemele Hill made that exact comparison, saying that pose on the cover “draw(s) a striking resemblance to the racially charged image of King Kong enveloping his very fair-skinned lady love interest.” And from looking at the pictures above, it may be true. For example, he is wearing all black and is bearing his teeth, and it appears to some people like she is the damsel in distress.

Hill and other bloggers, like Concrete Loop, make the argument that African-Americans have long been photographed like they are animals or beasts in the past, and by choosing to let this photo go on the cover, LeBron is just perpetuating a stereotype.

On some level, I feel differently. I feel that LeBron is just showing his masculinity and power. But I have not dealt with any serious racism personally. And if so many other people, especially African-Americans, are offended, James and his public relations people clearly have misread the situation.

For his part, LeBron said he does not have a problem with the photos and that he just wanted to show excitement and emotion. But a much better and safer route, especially from a p.r. perspective, would’ve been to go with the picture on the bottom right. It is clearly less offensive, and still makes LeBron look strong and powerful. Many bloggers agree – it would’ve made a much more positive impression for the first African-American on the cover of Vogue.

Potential Vogue Covers

To solve this public relations issue, I think LeBron should’ve acknowledged the problem and THEN given his reasons for choosing that cover. But clearly, James has weathered much worse storms (a Yankees cap at Jacobs Field?) and come out smelling like a rose. There’s a reason LeBron is the face of the NBA, and its not just because he is the best player. He is also the smartest at managing his public image and carrying himself with grace in public.

In the end, LeBron will recover from this public relations fiasco. For now, I just hope the media can get over this cover and focus on James taking the Cavs back to the NBA Finals!


March Gambling Madness!

March 20, 2008

Today is the beginning of that annual rite of spring known as March Madness. People pick the winners of the 65-team, three-week tournament that is the second biggest sports event in the United States.

Haminn QuiantanceThe most endearing aspect about the tournament is anyone can do it. Some people pick their alma mater. I’d love to choose Haminn Quiantance and my Golden Flashes, but UNLV is a tough matchup, and they surely won’t beat Kansas if they win round one. Some people pick the most fearsome mascots. Some people tend to flock to the favorite. Count me among that group - I think North Carolina has the best team and best player overall, so that’s my pick. I’ll make sure to rub it in if I’m right in three weeks.

Clearly, I’m not alone in picking. This year, 37 million people are expected to gamble on this year’s tournament, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a job counseling firm in Chicago. Some estimate that as much as $2.5 billion will be wagered this year alone.

In general, I don’t mind this wagering. Spherion Corp. estimates that 75% of the people betting don’t wager more than $20 on the tournament. What’s wrong with some low stakes fun?

The NCAA can find lots of things wrong with it. Especially from a public relations standpoint. In fact, there is a very checkered history of NCAA basketball point-shaving and gambling scandals. These scandals have long been the biggest public relations problem for an institution that is supposed to be about student athletes, not an over-under gambling line.

The gambling issues go as far back as 1951, when the Kentucky Wildcats and six other teams combined to fix 86 games. The scandals continued to get worst until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Future NBA stars from Tulane and Arizona State fixed games for money. Rumors of hookers, pay-for-play and gambling involvement followed former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian for years. 

These situations would be the definition of a public relations crisis. So what did the NCAA do? It cracked down in the early ’90s, sanctioning every team that was found to have violations. The NCAA removed scholarships, suspended coaches, and effectively destroyed some programs like the aforementioned Arizona State and Tulane. I feel like the NCAA did the best it could given the circumstances.

The NCAA has even come down hard on other sports who bet on the tournament. University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired in 2003 after he bet in a small scale tournament bracket pool. (He eventually sued and won $4.5 million in salary from the school and NCAA.) As wrong as the firing turned out to be, it did send a message that any gambling, even on a smaller level, is not okay.

The NCAA’s newest public relations problem is today’s general acceptance of gambling. There is also the ever-present possibility that the bookies will be able to poison another squad into point-shaving. For now, the best the NCAA can do is pay close attention. And maybe hope for another March filled with amazing game-winning shots and huge upsets that bust everyone’s bracket.

MoneyJust as long as no one actually puts any money on those brackets, of course.


Not So Super(Sonics)

March 6, 2008

I know I just mentioned how the NBA cares about Public Relations in my last post, but I guess I was wrong. Either that or I wasn’t paying enough attention. Case in point: the Seattle Supersonics.

This is a team in a medium-size media market with a great 41-Kevin Durantyear history. It also now features a franchise player in Kevin Durant. Like I talked about in my last post, he is a LeBron-style player – young, image conscious and very talented.

The only problem is they play in a 15-year-old arena without the optimum number of luxury suites. While this is a disadvantage to the owners to a point, it is hardly enough reason to move a franchise. The Sonics have a great fanbase (as evidenced by this Bill Simmons column) and solid attendance when the team is competitive.

But they have a new owner in Clay Bennett who is hell bent on moving the team to Oklahoma City, where he is from. This would be fine if he were attempting to rescue a team without a great fanbase or that is struggling to draw fans. Remember, only two year ago, Oklahoma City sold out the arena regularly as the fill-in city for the New Orleans Hornets.

But Bennett clearly picked the wrong team and the NBA is dealing with his PR mistakes again and again. Now, since Bennett didn’t even try to hide his interest and eagerness in moving the club, the city hates the team even as it fights to keep it.

And some criticism must go to David Stern. For as much good as he’s done in other facets of the game, he has hurt the NBA in this situation. Likely because he is a friend of Bennett, Stern hasn’t jumped up in support of Seattle. In fact, he let the sale of the team to Bennett happen just a year ago. Even though anyone and everyone knew that Bennett wanted to move whatever franchise he bought to Oklahoma City.

Shame on you, David Stern. Couldn’t you have used your power to at least find a team in worst shape, with less history, than the Sonics?


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