SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Opinion

PR not an NHL priority; broadcaster’s sanctimony annoying

Following up on the issue of public opinion when it comes to the NHL/NHLPA labor talks (Aug. 27-Sept. 2 issue), a number of people involved in previous negotiations reached out to tell me the PR battle is not top of mind at this time in negotiations. Said one executive of multiple labor disputes, “The leagues don’t care about winning the PR war, especially early in the process. The only goal is to get the deal.”

Hearing that, I reached out to another sports business insider, a person who has consulted on many strategic communication issues in sports. Anonymously, he agreed that PR shouldn’t be a concern so soon in the collective-bargaining process. “The only audience that matters to the league at this point is the players union, and for the union, it’s all about reaching its own members and the board of governors. At this point in the process, public opinion is a necessary casualty. The fact is, no one can focus on what the fans think until a deal gets done.” I asked him if there was nothing to be gleaned or taken from what fans are saying or how the negotiations are being portrayed. “There is value in talking about what the fans may be interpreting from the labor dispute and how they are feeling about it, and even what the media is saying,” he said, “but from a business standpoint, it doesn’t matter yet.” While both sides in a labor dispute often bring in seasoned communications consultants to see them through the difficult times, they aren’t the ones that matter. “CBA negotiations are not driven by public relations professionals,” this insider stressed. “They are driven by the commissioners and their owners, the players and their union, and the lawyers for both sides.”

One element that has changed the landscape in collective bargaining is social media. “It has amplified everyone’s voice,” he said. “The players have a louder voice and a more direct voice to one another and to the fans. And the league has more of a direct voice to everyone.” If negotiations continue to sputter along, this could be an area to watch, as one wonders if a misstep on either side could affect any progress or the process overall. “Social media increases how much rhetoric there is and how loud it rings. Public communications are fraught with greater risk than ever before. Mistakes and misstatements never go unnoticed,” he warned.

In the end, he was frank. “Everyone knows how these stories end,” he said. “The league always wins. It always gets settled, and the fans always come back. The only thing that can change is the amount of damage along the way and the time it takes to get a deal done. Without sounding cavalier, there is always time to make things better with the fans.”



CBS announcer’s scolding of Andy Murray was unnecessary.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
I couldn’t help but be engrossed by last Monday’s U.S. Open men’s final: the intensity of the play, the power and flow of the points, the energy in the crowd, and the emotions of the players. And that’s exactly why I got angry with CBS’s Mary Carillo. Here’s the scene: Fourth set, Andy Murray leading two sets to one, but Novak Djokovic is up 3-2 in the fourth and stealing momentum. Murray hit a forehand into the net and could be heard dropping an F-bomb. I loved the intensity and the feeling of pressure that was clearly affecting the player. As someone who has dumped a ton of easy forehands into the net during weekend play, I could relate to the frustration. But Carillo, instead of simply apologizing to the viewer for it being picked up by CBS’s microphones, went so far as to actually reprimand Murray like the school librarian, saying, “Sorry if you heard Murray’s potty mouth. He does that a lot. Too much.” Oh please, come on! Are broadcasters that fearful of viewer backlash or the FCC? Say sorry and move on, but don’t criticize him. He’s in the fourth set of one of the most pivotal matches in his life. He makes a mistake and yells at himself. Not at a line-judge, not at a fan — at himself … for his screw-up. Save the sanctimony. I’ll remember this the next time talent in the booth is saying tennis needs stars with “personalities” who show “emotion.”



Do you know any mentors or longtime sports business executives who would be a fit in our Class of Champions for 2013? Over the last three years, SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily have targeted six veteran executives annually for their contributions to the sports business. We have recognized a number of dignified leaders and thinkers in sports business, people who have devoted their careers to the industry, demonstrated innovation and achievement, and become mentors to many. These people have had a distinct and sustainable effect on sports, earning admiration and respect across the industry. Those previous honorees have included Jerry Colangelo, Marvin Miller, Val Ackerman and Don Ohlmeyer, among others. Who stands out to you? Anyone come to mind? If so, let me know.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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