It's amazing how quick a story can travel these days. The beat jumps within hours across the globe to millions of people and the given authorities have not even had an opportunity to verify it's accuracy. It takes a life of it's own moving from blogs to pod-casts while intertwined in other traditional mediums and opinions are being voiced at a rapid-fire pace while those directly tied to the story are not even aware, let alone having it all sink in and understanding how they want to manage it!
For pro-sports clubs, it's a major issue and the question that I am putting out there is "can they effectively manage their Brand in this instantaneous world"?
The NBA's Toronto Raptors have had to manage rumors that their super star and franchise player Chris Bosh will be leaving them after the 2010 season. Major League Baseball's New York Yankees now have to contend with their super star Alex Rodriguez and his recent interview with ESPN talking about how he took performance enhancing drugs from 2001-03 as a member of the Texas Rangers. The Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL are now facing rumors about their super star Vincent LeCavalier and the possibility that he will be moved prior to the NHL's trading deadline this season.
Who really knows what is true and what is not true these days, and in the case of Alex Rodriguez it is true as per his own words, yet if you are a pro-sports club trying to attract as many viewers as possible and keep the ones you have loyal; the task is difficult when the players are essentially "the product" and rumors of player departures and player activities on and off the field, especially in cities where the respective sport is not the "top game in town", could drive revenues for your club downward, and more than ever before in this down-turn economy. After all, who wants to stay loyal to a team that is about to conduct a major fire sale and it may be years before they recover from it? Who wants to continue supporting a franchise with an already unpopular player who has now added another jolt of negativity to their resume?
The Yankees may be the exception. No matter what "circus" surrounds them, they can likely count on their season ticket holders, TV deals and team merchandise sales weathering it all, yet for other pro-sports clubs, it's a much harder task to content with.
As a result, pro-sports clubs need to be more sensitive to this and more proactive about managing their brand and reputation, especially with their loyal fan bases. Being aware of what is going on both "online and offline" is the first step. If you are not aware, then things can spiral out of control and an opportunity to deal with it, may have passed you by.
Tracking blogs, pod-casts, websites and prominent 'high traffic' areas where stories about your brand are ongoing is a must. Once that is in place, you need a strategy for how to deal with it. Do you want to respond? Not respond? Respond only sometimes depending on what is being circulated and which vehicles do you want to leverage to respond? Being part of the conversation has it's upsides and downsides, yet given the nature of our world today, it's not an option to not have any awareness of what is going on out there with your brand, especially when you are a high profile consumer brand - like the New York Yankees are.
Think about this in the context of your brand and what others might be saying about you and how you may or may not want to manage it all? Do you want to be part of the conversation and what is the opportunity-cost either way? The truth is that if you give your customers or members or fans something great and treat them well, then you don't need to worry about that too much, but if you don't and they suspect that you are no longer committed to offering up a great product (and as in the case of pro-sports clubs; a winning product), then even the slightest rumors regarding the quality of your product heading in the wrong direction, could hinder whatever it is you are trying to do.
My take is that we can't manage it all and a person that detests your brand and products may likely never change their position, so they will stir the pot from time to time. Managing vehicles that we have no control over is a difficult task. Rumors of a departure of a given athlete can hurt ticket sales, team merchandise sales and other critical revenue streams. With so much to compete with these days, mind share is hard to come by and expectations are higher than ever because disposable incomes are becoming lower than ever. Having said that - The need to keep customers happy is more pressing than ever. The lines between perception and reality, truths and untruths are clearly blurred and the need to manage it all is more urgent than before.