Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dealing with Public Relation Trainwrecks

The Womens National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are both suffering through extensive PR crises at the moment. The WBNA does not have a widespread appeal and in a tough economic recession has had to sell uniform sponsorship just to keep themselves around. Major League Baseball for the last decade has dealt with a ever increasing problem of players using performance enhancing drugs. Even though attendance and television ratings continue to rise and their place next to the NFL in Tier 1 professional sports is certainly not at risk, the public perception among fans, media, and non-fans is negative because of this situation. The WNBA and MLB both have unique situations.

Professional women's basketball has declined in popularity. Attendance is down throughout the league and stable organizations have lost their footing. The NBA, the mecca of sports promotion is not a team promoting league: they promote their individual stars which has proven to be successful. On top of this, the showboat nature of the NBA has made it appealing to television and live audiences. For the WNBA, unfortunately there are fewer thrilling slam dunks, a staple of the NBA's popularity in their games. My recommendation is that they consider altering the specifications of the playing surface. Not in a trampoline installing sense, but by bringing the nets lower, and closer together, they can maintain the look of the game while significantly increasing the entertainment value. Sports Centre highlight reels drive popularity in individual players, and by making the surface alterations can highlight the performances of these extremely athletic basketball players.

The PED issue is much more complex. This has been a runaway train for nearly a decade. It must be understood that while the players as a whole are not entirely responsible for what has happened, they will undoubtedly take the fall. The list of 103 players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003, when there were no consequences for failing tests has slowly been trickling through anonymous sources. Also, recall that rules concerning PEDs were never passed by the MLBPA--this was Selig on his own. So they never agreed to rules that have no consequence, which is really a recipe for something to go wrong. So while taking steroids are poor life choices, they weren't doing anything outrageous, illegal, or anything that has consequence. It's difficult to feel sorry for these players but there's context in what happened. In any event, if Selig opts for the Do Nothing approach, he will have this list of names trickle down through the media, for probably another decade, which is enough time to induct someone into the Hall of Fame who did PEDs. If they want this situation to go away, they will undoubtedly have release the 103 names (I think that we probably know ten), make a settledment with the players union, not an easy task, and induct a new set of punishments for PED use: such as lifetime banishment. That sends the message to the fans that they've woken up to what the issue is and that they will do what is necessary to make sure it doesn't repeat.

Unlike the WNBA, who can turn this around before it's too late, fan perception of PEDs in baseball has been completely tarnished for at least the next two decades. Then we'll either all forgive the players who did them, or acknowledge that like crack cocaine, it is just part of society.