Monday, October 24, 2005
The PR Problem, AKA "McBroke And His Dominatrix"
What a crappy way to start the week. Nothing like getting a flat tire on a Monday morning while going to work. Anyhow...
There was yet another turnover in the PR staff, as the incumbent VP of Communications was ousted after just six months, and was replaced by Tipper Gore's ex-aide. It seems as if the McCourts change PR people like the fictitious band Spinal Tap change drummers.
Also, the LA Times on Sunday stated that DePodesta's job may not be safe, either. Such guesswork isn't worth elaborating on, except to say that his detractors probably wish for a quick, mysterious death by either spontaneous combustion or by choking on someone else's vomit. (Eeck, couldn't help that one last reference to "This Is Spinal Tap")
The following quote caught my eye.
Dodger employees and prospective employees, according to sources, have been directed by the McCourts and their lieutenants to "think of the McCourts as the brand and the Dodgers as the product."
Assuming that this is indeed true, here are some thoughts.
- Given their backgrounds, the McCourts are certainly intelligent and, at times, bold.
- As with any sane business owner, their objective is to turn a profit, either from team operations or from a related venture.
- They are learning the business of baseball on the fly by applying their backgrounds in real estate and law as they see fit.
- Their public personae of "mean" and "penny-pinching" may or may not be apt.
The so-called "family operation" back in the O'Malley era is a fond notion that most fans, rightfully or not, associate with the glory days of Koufax, Drysdale, and Valenzuela. The McCourts tried to revive some of these ideas this year. (Tie-ins to the 1955 season immediately comes to mind) In other words, the McCourt "brand" was to become the successor to the O'Malleys in spirit. The reason to do so not only lies in the hopes of greater profits, but also in raising their own public stature for future benefit.
This effort to be associated with past glory has largely failed. A better year wouldn't have made much difference, I believe. As a fan, I flat out don't care how nice a man Frankie is, whether Jamie can bake a mean apple pie, or how they project a leadership quality that will surely bring the World Series to Chavez Ravine. When I go to a game, I'm happy as long as the team is winning and the environment is relatively affordable and safe. Forget the "brand." I care about the "product."
Maybe that's the reason the PR staff has completely been upended again. It is difficult enough to promote the team when the team finishes 20 games under .500, one of the best players goes berserk (again), and the manager is fired. Instead, imagine trying to promote the ownership, the masthead that oversaw this entire mess. The McCourts may have reduced the PR job to that of a replacement-level drummer, an impossible job to fill.
To be fair, I understand that businesses are run in the interests of the owner. Perhaps the changes were overdue in the corporate team. Times have changed, and the business paradigm should evolve accordingly. Such a change is no different from DePodesta's roster overhaul from a financial perspective: shedding the overpaid, underperforming employees while acquiring those who will be more productive.
PR is virtually useless when the product goes sour. One course of action would be to forget about the "brand" and focus on the "product" exclusively, for now. Field a team within an acceptable(ly high?) budget that wins consistently year after year and everything, including the image problem, will take care of itself. Unfortunately, there is a strong possibility that DePodesta's plan probably won't reap rewards until about 2007 or so.
The McCourts have found it difficult to maintain any positive public image while restructuring the team under their philosophy. Some of the criticism is well-deserved, some not. Another losing season or two might mean alienating many fans, which would be quite an ignoble feat given the heralded history of the Dodgers, a team with the greatest attendance figure in all of sports. A good 2006 campaign is a must.
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