Some PR efforts don't succeed. Last week, Miami Marlins owner Jeffery Loria bought full-page ads in South Florida's daily newspapers and published an open letter to fans. He defended last year's dismantling of the team, suggested that money it receives from tourist taxes is not "public" money, and largely blamed everyone but himself for the team's tattered reputation and abysmal ticket sales. He followed the widely panned letter with a press conference reasserting the same points. None of it was well received.
A columnist for the Associated Press has since asked the question: "Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in the history of sports?" Aside from all the rich material here, I was struck by the word choices and tone taken by Marlins President David Samson in a recent story in The Miami Herald: "I'm not going to say Miami is not a sports town,'' he said. "Or that there is something wrong with the fans? I would never say that."
Oh you wouldn't, would you? I think you just did.
I find this type of language fascinating. A former client once said to me: "I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I think..." Guess what? He was telling me how to do my job, just as Samson is saying there's something wrong with the fans in Miami.
Given my fascination for this "saying it but not saying it" tactic, I decided to seek an expert opinion. I called my friend Dr. Oren Wunderman, a psychologist who also serves as CEO of Miami's Family Resource Center, a wonderful non-profit group that helps foster kids get adopted. Oren has forgotten more about psychology than I will ever know.
He called Samson's language a "paradoxical assertion," where a person asserts a point in one part of a statement and then negates it in another.
"State it and withdraw it," said Wunderman. "Very sneaky."
For some of his adolescent patients, Wunderman says such language is unconscious, and he doesn't hold them accountable for it. With adults, he sees it as a form of manipulation.
Now, I don't just want to pound on Loria and Samson while they are down. I have never met Loria, but I like Samson. I have heard him speak several times at chamber of commerce meetings and he's a very smart guy. He's an advocate for the arts, a proponent of increased fitness and was even pretty good in his cameo role in the recent "The Three Stooges" movie (I'm not kidding: Check it out).
Regardless, the Marlins leadership misjudged how the latest PR efforts would play out. To right the ship and reconnect with South Florida's fickle fans, I have a few suggestions for Loria and Samson.
Stop talking about the public financing issue. Some people will always be upset that your stadium is publicly financed. Stop worrying about how the stadium was paid-for and stop bringing up the negatives. Get over it. In Miami, we are all too familiar with government using our money incorrectly. Defending the financing plan is impossible -- our last mayor lost his job because of it. And by the way, whoever gave you the "it's not public money" sound bite ought to have their head examined. "It's not public money because it's from the tourist bed tax?" Are you kidding me? So the millions in tourist taxes would just evaporate into the humid Miami night if we didn't earmark it for your stadium? A lot of people will hate it forever and you can't change them; so move on.
Stop blaming. Blaming is bad for business. Sorry, but it is neither the media's nor the fans' fault that the vitriol is flying and nobody wants to buy a season ticket. Yes, people are piling-on, but every sports franchise has to take the good with the bad. Each time a Marlins executive blames the fans or media, he sounds like a petulant child. At this point, nobody cares if you take your ball and go home. Remember, the fans pay your salary and right now they don't think you have earned your pay. As for the media, no other business aside from sports has multiple pages of daily newspapers devoted to it everyday. Media coverage is a tremendous gift, but with coverage comes scrutiny. You have to roll with it.
Stop being so disingenuous. Right now, all fans hear is whining and double-talk. Saying that the team is better off now because it has improved its farm system doesn't play at all in "win-centric" South Florida. My suggestion would be for the team's executives to sit down with fans and season ticket holders and get their feedback. Listen to your base of support and hear them out. Take your medicine, then explain your decisions and be honest that you believe this strategy gives you the best chance to get back to the World Series. Next, develop a long-haul position that focuses on what fans will see on the field this year. Lastly, get your promotions team working on plans to put some butts in seats, so you can start genuinely re-earning faith.
The Marlins face a long rough road to improve their on- and off-field performance. If they back down from the negative messaging, and take a long-term and genuine approach, then they can win back South Florida fans. If not, expect the chilly relationship to continue.
Follow John P. David on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnpdavid