Toronto has a serious case of Blue Jays fever. The team hasn’t received this much press and attention since Joe Carter’s glorious walk off homer in 1993. Media are looking to post a new story about the team no matter how trivial the topic. It makes sense, the fans are eating it up.
Currently the Jays are securing big wins on and off the field: ratings and revenues are up, spirits are high and good-news stories are rolling off the presses. But increased attention comes with risks too and small issues can work themselves into big issues if not taken care of…like Jose Bautista’s boycott of Sportsnet
The Star reported Wednesday that Bautista has refused to do one-on-one interviews with Sportsnet for more than three months in protest of the broadcaster’s refusal to pay the cost of a designer suit purchased by rookie Devon Travis as part of a TV segment aired and organized by Sportsnet on May 19.
Let’s put aside the ethics about dressing athletes for TV segments, the relationship between Sportsnet and the Blue Jays (both owned by Rogers) and who should have paid for the suit. I would like to focus on how this story could have been controlled better.
Jose Bautista boycotted interviews with Sportsnet as an act of solidarity with his teammate. Excellent job, Jose. It’s a bold move, but it’s what good leaders do and you endeared yourself to the fans (even more so).
Sportsnet, on the other hand, somehow didn’t realize that value in getting the Jays’ star player back on side or the risk of the boycott becoming a bigger story. They totally missed their opportunity to get out in front of the controversy. Instead they let three months go by without an interview with one of their star players.
Finally, The Star writes the story about it. Sportsnet decides not to comment:
“We will not be commenting,” Sportsnet spokeswoman Jennifer Neziol wrote to The Star via email.
Three months in, this is a contentious issue, but it is basic PR knowledge that not commenting is often the worst option. Saying nothing allows others to speak (or assume) for you. It makes you look like you don’t care and a Canadian sports network should care about the hottest Canadian team in sports and their star player.
Predictably, fans took to social media to voice their disappointment and started the hashtag #payforthesuit
GotStyle, the retailer also featured in the TV segment, apparently asked about paying for the suit in the first place, but instead gave Devon Travis a 50 per cent discount at the direction of Sportsnet. It’s unclear when the owner of GotStyle, Melissa Austria, was interviewed by The Star and made this information public, but the damage was already done by the time it was published in the end of boycott story.
I’d like to offer a little free PR advice to the folks at Sportsnet and GotStyle.
Strike 1: Get ahead of the story so you can control it.
Sportsnet had three months to make this right and seemingly sat on their hands.
Strike 2: Once the story is out there, make a comment.
Both Sportsnet and GotStyle didn’t address the press or social media in a timely manner. Especially considering GotStyle had the “get out of jail free” card that they asked about paying for it and gave a discount (maybe that would hurt their relationship with Sportsnet though). They both should have said something.
Strike 3: Turn it into something positive by remaining authentic.
GotStyle’s owner Austria made a good move by suggesting the donation of suits to charity. However her comment loses some of its goodwill by explicitly saying that was the intent. It ends up seeming inauthentic;
“So I’d love to do a challenge with (Bautista) that for every game that the Blue Jays win, we’ll donate a suit to True Patriot Love and he’ll match it. It’s such a silly conversation. Let’s turn this around and do something more positive.”
The whole thing could have been avoided and the press loop closed much quicker than it was. Hopefully everyone involved learned a bit from the experience.
And at least nobody coined it “suitgate”. Oh wait, they did (#suitgate).
(posted by David)