Sports Team Owner Fumbles on PR Front

 Sports Team Owner Fumbles on PR Front

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Take bad PR, add a heaping cup of tone-deaf obstinacy and voila, you have Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins football team.

Despite worsening public opinion, Snyder continues his fight to keep the word “redskin” in the team name even though it’s seen by many as an ethnic slur against Native Americans. This week, he announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose mission is “to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.” He came up with the idea, he said, after visiting more than two dozen Native American reservations across the US.

The Oneida Indian Nation was scathing, saying they hope that ”in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle, Mr. Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor … have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as Washington’s team’s name.”  The media also see a slap in the face in the foundation’s name: Slate Executive Editor Josh Levin opined, “This is perhaps the most uncharitable name ever conceived for a charitable group, something akin to calling your organization “Kikes United Against Anti-Semitism.”

It won’t be the first time a company has tried to create PR goodwill by saying it will serve the people it has wronged. Snyder’s ill-advised effort, however, has fumbled badly.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Daniel Snyder, who, despite his crusade for the Washington Redskins football team name, oddly never uses the word “redskin” as a synonym for “Native American” in his communications.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Perception rules. Snyder may think he is on a righteous path because some Native Americans have assured him they don’t find the term offensive. But he chooses to ignore the ones who do — and they are the ones making the headlines. By naming the foundation so, Snyder has only created even more controversy and further divided the very community he is hoping to assuage.

National Football League Loses More Points

 National Football League Loses More Points

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League.

Even if you know nothing about American football, you may have heard of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Their names will soon fade from the headlines, but a burgeoning image problem for the National Football League may not.

Martin recently walked away from the Miami Dolphins after he said he could no longer endure harassment by his teammates, led by Incognito. The imbroglio includes charges of racism and purported threats by Incognito to sexually assault Martin’s sister, and by Martin to annihilate Incognito’s entire family.

It sounds over the top, but not for the NFL. In the past two years, the league has seen one player charged with an execution-style homicide (Aaron Hernandez) and another murder his girlfriend then kill himself in front of his coach (Jovan Belcher). So far in 2013, more than 40 players have been arrested for various crimes. A book out last month, League of Denial, accuses the league of ignoring and even covering up evidence that players have suffered devastating brain damage as a result of their years on the field.

These issues arise as the NFL enjoys unprecedented popularity and financial success. Perhaps because of that, the brand – a collective of  32 teams – has been somewhat slow to tarnish. As the incidents mount, however, the league’s top brass needs to consider their next PR move.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the National Football League. Is the best defense, indeed, a good offense?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Accentuate the positive. Like many organizations, the NFL doesn’t have complete control over its members but what the league does have is positive stories to tell: it has changed the rules of the game to try to reduce concussions, funds programs to examine head trauma and has “player engagement” programs that focus on mentorship and personal responsibility. These talking points should be in every team owner’s back pocket when speaking to the media. When an organization is the sum of its parts, PR is everyone’s job – not just the commissioner’s.

Football Team Avoids a Foul

 Football Team Avoids a Foul

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the New England Patriots. (Pictured: Former Patriots team member Aaron Hernandez.)

When an employee is arrested for a crime, should the company stand by the person? That was the question facing US football team The New England Patriots recently when police began investigating one of their star players, Aaron Hernandez, in the death of an acquaintance.

At first, team management was quiet on the matter. As details began to emerge, however, they moved into damage-control mode. Shortly after Hernandez’s arrest, the Patriots announced they would release him. A few hours later, Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder.

From a PR perspective, the Patriots did three things right: They fired Hernandez (at significant financial expense) before he’d been charged; their statement expressed both condolences to the victim’s family and their horror that a Patriots player might be involved; and they offered to exchange, for free, team jerseys inscribed with Hernandez’s name, many of which are owned by the team’s younger fans.

Arrests of professional football players are on the rise so the Patriot’s decision was an important one. In 2013, at least 39 players have been charged with serious crimes. The Patriots are one of the most well-managed and competitive teams in the league. By cutting ties to Hernandez, they sent a powerful message: criminal activity won’t be tolerated, even by lucrative star players.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Patriots, whose swift decision saved face.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  “Innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply when it comes to the brand. The decision to walk away from beleaguered employees sounds heartless, but an employee’s misconduct – real, perceived, or as yet confirmed – can cast dark shadows on an organization. These unusual situations must be decided on a case-by-base basis; there may be times when evidence is less than compelling, or a suspension makes better PR and legal sense.  As a general rule, though, the sooner a company parts ways with the accused, the better.

What the Hell, NFL?

 What the Hell, NFL?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. (Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.)

This has been a particularly bad week for the PR image of the National Football League: a murder-suicide, a death due to drunk driving – even a reduction in suspension of popular players came with a reminder of the nasty reasons they’d been reprimanded in the first place. The recent news items have left both sports fans and casual observers asking what the hell is going on in the NFL?

The news has been nothing short of shocking. Last week, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, at their home. Belcher then drove to the Chiefs’ training facility and committed suicide. The announcement of the deaths was made on a game day, and the team played on. This week, Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown. The next day, the Cowboys were on the field.

Also this week, an announcement was made regarding the reduction of suspensions for New Orleans Saints players involved in “bountygate” – a scheme in which players were rewarded for injuring opposing team members. Overall, it’s been a bad week for the NFL’s image – but not for its ratings or ticket sales. Is this clever PR at work?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. The tragedies shine a light on the difficult life of pro athletes, but why is there no impact on ticket sales?

The PR Takeaway: The show must go on, and sometimes instead of the company setting the tone, it’s better to take the PR cue from customers. The NFL hasn’t gone overboard in their reaction to the week’s events precisely because the customers haven’t. Like the fans, they express sympathy for the families of the deceased and acknowledge that players sometimes go overboard, but in this case, the NFL knows exactly what the hell it’s doing. Though it has been rather a bad week for the NFL, it’s business as usual – until, and unless, fans give a signal to the contrary.