Yet another September to (not) remember

As a long-suffering Mets and Jets fan, I'm agonizing through yet another painful month of  MetstoJetsFrame September. But, as a communications professional, I'm fascinated by the starkly different communications strategies taken by each squad.

Let's begin with the hapless Metropolitans. After three or four seasons in a row in which they claimed to be the National League's best team (but weren't), the 2010 Mets' communications plan was decidedly low key.  I distinctly recall outfielder Jeff Francoeur being quoted during Spring Training and saying something to the effect, “We really like the balance on this team. And, we also really like being underestimated by the experts. Some are even saying we'll finish as low as fourth place. Ha. We'll see,” he said with a smile. Well, guess what? The Mets are indeed mired in fourth place and Francouer is gone with the wind, having been traded to the Texas Rangers.

Now, let's turn to the hapless Jets. Led by head coach Rex Ryan and coming off a surprising run to the AFC championship game last season, the Jets have been bold and brash, predicting nothing less than a Super Bowl victory. Their trash-talking swagger was brilliantly captured by HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series and further exacerbated by countless articles quoting Ryan and others as saying that anything less than a Super Bowl win would be considered a failure.

Well, the offense failed badly in Monday night's season opener and the brashness and bravado went darker than a coal mine collapse in Chile. Further undermining the 'image' of these new, Super Bowl-bound Jets was a weekend story about player harassment of a female Mexican sportscaster.

It seems to me a communication strategy should be based upon facts and results, not projections of what might be. We sometimes come to verbal blows with clients in media training sessions over this very issue. They want to talk about soon being masters of the universe in their particular field. We push back, knowing a jaded media will laugh at such hyperbole.

It's a shame sports teams don't provide better counseling to coaches and players about messaging that sets false expectations. Naturally, there's a need to generate fan excitement and sell tickets but, at least with the Mets and Jets, the communications strategies seem to always parallel the end result. Whether it's a “…You just wait and see” or “…We're on a one-way ride to the Super Bowl,” neither team seems able to deliver on its communications strategy (or win a championship, for that matter).

12 thoughts on “Yet another September to (not) remember

  1. Hey Ghost of PR Past. I could be wrong, but I was talking about the 1979 Pirates and at that time there wasn’t any luxury tax. I don’t think that was implemented until the late nineties — maybe around 1997.

  2. No, we’re talking about two different women because then I’d remember who David Bender is, much less whomever it is that you’re thinking of.
    But no matter — it was all so long ago that Western Union still delivered telegrams for the bargain price of $14.99.

  3. And, I remember that woman well. She ended up in David Bender’s arms if memory serves.
    (Bill: More EPB memorabilia. This time courtesy of Peter Engel.)

  4. The last time I fell for the wrong woman, I was working for you and the Mets were an under-.500 team. Fortunately, only the last factor remains present in my life today! And thanks for the encouragement.

  5. I actually know more about the current Pirates team than I’d ever want to — because, believe you me, they don’t deserve my attention, based on how poorly they’ve been run. Rather than bore you with the specifics, I’d say there are three keepers on that team: McCutchen (the one with the hair), Walker and Tabata. The rest are purely AAA material happy to receive meal money and have their luggage carried for them.
    As for the questions regarding revenue sharing in baseball, I would refer you to Daily News columnist Bill Madden, who has published exclusive (read: leaked — and most likely by the Yankees) data about how in 2009, the Pirates received $75 million in revenue sharing from other MLB teams, yet finished the season with a payroll of around $29 million. Their owner, Madden asserts, is using his baseball-derived revenue-sharing dollars to prop up his other business interests, which include a sagging ski resort just north of the greater Pittsburgh area.
    More recently, the Pirates and a few other teams (I believe it was the Marlins and Rays) were outed when leaked financial documents suggested that small-market recipients of revenue-sharing dollars were not applying those proceeds to their baseball organizations. I know MLB practically forced Florida to re-sign Josh Johnson, their ace pitcher, to a long-term deal because the team had failed to show any evidence of funneling those dollars back into their baseball operations.

  6. Not sure that Pirates are making money. Baseball is not structured like the NFL where every team divides television revenue equally. That’s why in the NFL, for the most part it doesn’t matter if you win the Super Bowl or you finish 0-16 like Detroit. Everyone divides equally. Next highest source of income is from merchandising. The little stuff such as local radio, tickets, parking and concessions follows but is only a fraction of the TV revenue. In baseball, markets such as Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Seattle and the like cannot compete with the top markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago because everyone is out for themselves. The smaller markets don’t have as many viewers and cannot generate the TV revenue the larger ones can and consequently don’t have the multi-million dollar players that the Yankees, Mets or Dodgers have. Sure, there is a luxury tax and the late George Steinbrenner was happy to pay the tax because he wanted to win a championship and went out to get the supposed best players in the game. That’s why in 1979 when Pittsburgh rallied from three games to one down to win the World Series, the team averaged about 16,000 fans at Three Rivers Stadium and lost money that season. Can you name three players on the current Pirates team?

  7. Superb analysis of both squads, Ghost. Thanks. And, you’re spot on re: profits vs. performance. The new Rex-lead Jets are undoubtedly racking up huge profits in merchandising, etc. As for the Mets, I’d paraphrase the old Brooklyn Dodgers fan lament and say, “…wait until next decade.”

  8. Don’t confuse performance on the field with profitability; as recent studies have shown perennial cellar-dwellers like the Pirates are enjoying handsome revenues while fielding an entirely inferior product. But, that said, I do think a brand personality plays a big role in not only selling tickets but also attracting talent.
    From the Jets’ standpoint, their HBO gig has made them the buzz of the NFL, providing them the type of publicity that’s almost impossible to generate, save for an undefeated season or a series of arrests stemming from a no-holds-barred boating soiree. Even though die-hard Jet fans know that the curse surrounding the organization means that this team, despite all its assembled talent, will likely go 7-9 (they are the Jets, after all), such a performance would still likely be a profitable one for the organization and would likely help them to attract elite talent in the years to come. Rex, as captured on HBO, has made the Jets a destination. (By the way, I just noticed a little dyslexic typing conveniently turns “Jets” into “jest”; insert your own irony here.)
    The Mets, on the other hand, are no longer a destination for anyone. A black cloud began hovering after they didn’t make the World Series in 2006, and the subsequent collapses in 2007 and 2008, respectively, did little to exorcise those demons. For my money, there’s something rotten at the core — something that isn’t going to be addressed with the annual cosmetic addition of a superstar (see Santana, KRod, Bay, et al). Suffice to say, they need a Rex over there to change the atmosphere.

  9. Absolutely right, Peter. That’s why I’ve done my best in recent years to keep a sort of emotional distance from Minaya’s Mets. Falling in love with that team is just like falling for the wrong woman. You know you shouldn’t feel the way you do, but you’re helplessly head over heels. Hang tough, Peter.

  10. If Omar and Jerry come back next year, I’m convinced those two must posses photos of the Wilpons and farm animals engaged in….well, you know.
    Now I know how Cubs fans feel – once you get past being angry, tryin’ to love the Mets breaks your heart.