Why the Astros' PR Struck Out
I often marvel at how people on the hot seat try to answer questions from the news media during difficult times. Whether it's politicians, celebrities, athletes, or corporate leaders, I'm constantly amazed how they think they can waltz their way through a news conference with statements filled with more bullshit than what's spread on a farmer's field in spring.
The latest example came from the Houston Astros and their attempt to face the music last week in response to the sign stealing scandal.
They struck out on three pitches, but they really never had a chance to begin with.
The Owner and the Doubletalk
First of all, we need to understand the reason a team like the Astros holds a news conference. It’s not because they want to, it’s because they know it’s the lesser of two evils. If they didn’t, their players, coaches and others would be hounded throughout spring training and into the regular season by reporters wanting answers. To counter that, they hold a news conference, answer a few questions and hope the matter goes away. Sometimes it does. Normally it doesn’t. This time it certainly won’t.
The main man at the centre of the storm was Astros owner Jim Crane. His message seemed to be, I fired the guys responsible for running the team (General Manager and Manager), major league baseball (MLB) didn’t take away our World Series title, or punish the players, so let’s move on.
There were a couple of fundamental questions that needed answers. The biggest was, don’t you think you had an unfair advantage by stealing signals? Crane didn’t handle that one well.
Ok then. That wasn't good Jim. That led to a similar question, which didn’t get a better answer right at the end of the news conference.
The Root of the Problem
The whole problem here is not so much how the Astros handled the news conference. It wasn’t good. You just saw two of the highlights. The bigger problem they faced is that the team, and certainly its players, got off easy.
When the public and the media believe the punishment doesn't fit the crime, you have a problem on your hands if you’re Jim Crane. Many people think the Astros should have had the 2017 World Series taken from them because they cheated. Many others think the players should be punished because it was described as a “players-run operation.” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league couldn't punish the players because there was no evidence the GM told the players about a memo from the league telling teams to stop any electronic sign stealing that was going on. The players union, he said, would have filed a grievance.
Manfred threw gas on the fire on Sunday when he said "taking away a piece of metal" wouldn't make a difference now. The piece of metal is the World Series trophy, called the Commissioner's Trophy. The Commissioner needs go to to media training school again I think.
Crane could have done a far better job in answering questions, but he was between a rock and a hard place. If he would have agreed too much with the critics who want more punishment, then MLB wouldn’t be happy because it laid down the punishment. If he didn’t sound apologetic enough and take enough responsibility (which he didn’t) then he and the Astros will suffer the wrath of the media, fans and other teams.
That’s where we are today.
The Punishment Didn't Fit the Crime
The reality is, the Astros got off light. It was Crane who fired his GM and Manager. Major league baseball only suspended them.
That’s what led to this. The Astros keep their World Series and the players don’t get punished. Much like a convicted felon only having to spend a short period behind bars, it doesn’t seem fair.
The owner of the team that beat the Astros for the World Series, the Washington Nationals, says he won’t be satisfied until the Astros admit they “cheated” and use that word. Understandable.
In a situation like this, there’s nothing you can say to keep everyone happy. Some people think a few good answers, coupled with a heartfelt apology will do the trick. It doesn’t.
When you have a PR crisis, you do your best not to get crushed. You’re not trying to win, you’re trying to lose gracefully. The Astros and MLB are getting crushed.
We live in an era where not only are star athletes put on a pedestal by fans, they’re often protected from the media by the teams they work for. They rarely have to face questions about anything like this. Neither do owners. People feel there’s something wrong with the system because there's a lack of accountability by people paid millions of dollars to play a game and they’re right.
The Astros and their owner were in a no-win situation last week. They may be in the same position for a long time to come.
Sign Up for My Blog
Get it delivered every week and when you sign up you'll receive my free e-book on media relations called Bulletproof Your Brand.