Thursday, March 13, 2008

Damn Shame You Can't Impeach an Owner

Let’s not sugarcoat it. James Dolan became owner of the Knicks because of his father, cable TV pioneer Charles Dolan’s fortune. Totally unqualified, unreasonable, tempestuous, moody and saddled with a past full of drug and alcohol abuse, Dolan paints no better picture than a spoiled kid who one day got tossed the keys to the most prized property in US sports.

In the world of sports PR, the chief concern of a PR professional is to maintain good relationships with the media. The point of creating lasting relationships with media members is to get them to write positive pieces about your team which will build you a positive, fan-friendly reputation.

PR 101.

James Dolan must have been hung over that day.

Think of the worst possible way to handle your PR. Now place that scenario in one of the most active journalist cities in the nation. You have now entered the nightmare of James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden media policy, known on the “inside” as “Tell Those Bastards Nothing,” bastards being the media, of course.

Dolan implemented the new media policy in 2001 – coincidentally, or…not, the Knicks’ last winning season. Dolan’s new institutional paranoia-fueled policy requires a PR staff member to take notes on every conversation that occurs between a player or coach and a member of the media, compile these notes into an email, and email the notes up the chain of command. Player and coach interviews are only done collectively and supervised by a PR professional. Essentially, the players and coaches are not allowed to speak with the media unless a PR representative is present at all times, which is unheard of in the sports world. Phone taps not out of the question.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post put it best during one Knicks game earlier this season:
“We have three people here tonight. “That’s 16 inches of copy and 16 inches of free space for the Knicks to sell their product, for better or for worse. To make those three stories as difficult as possible to write seems counterproductive to me.”

The Knicks treat the media “like shit” as an article in the New York Observer entitled “Life in Knicks Hell” put it. The beat writers, almost 16 total in New York versus 1 or 2 in most cities, moan and groan with tales of systematic repression – no access to the players, eavesdropping PR reps slithering in the shadows, lack of resources for game time, a media lounge with no couches or food.

Frank Isola is the beat writer for the Daily News and authors a blog entitled Knicks Knation. Isola claims that due to his harsh coverage of the Knicks he has been excluded from the media mailing list (press releases, game time, media appointments, etc.), had his phone calls and emails purposely ignored, and even believes Dolan has hired a security guard to follow him around MSG at all times. Excuse Isola for calling you out on being the worst owner of all time (Dolan was indeed elected Anti-Sportsman of the Year by the Daily News). Which you are. Every public relations professional knows that one of the main expectations in dealing with the media is that they are not there to be your cheerleader – they are there to report objectively what they see to the public.

James Dolan has forced the Knick organization to view the media as the enemy. And guess what Dolan? If you view the media as the enemy, you’re probably NOT GOING TO GET VERY GOOD PRESS. In fact, Sports Illustrated profiled Dolan’s personality last year – and the resulting article was pretty much about as anti-good press as you can get.

Dolan has taken this marquee franchise and in a matter of about ten years completely stripped the organization of any dignity whatsoever, in both the eyes of the media and the eyes of the public.

Being a PR representative often leaves you with the short end of the stick. Any credit goes to someone else. Anything goes wrong, you’re to blame. You are the slave to upper management. The public often thinks that the PR Director for sports teams is the ultimate authority, which is far from the truth. In reality, the PR representative is often forced to act like more of a mouthpiece for the management than he or she would care to – but that is part of the job description.

For example, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix declares the VP of public relations for the Knicks, Jon Supranowitz is widely recognized to be a friendly helpful guy, as well as Nick Brown, the media relations director. Unfortunately, as Mannix affirms, these two talented PR experts do not have the final say, and therefore are slave to the regime of Dolan’s temper tantrums.

How are the PR employees supposed to promote the Knicks brand? What approach do you even take as a PR representative for the Knicks in attempting to pitch a story? Or plan a public interest event? Dolan has basically undermined every function of a PR employee, leaving them to be nothing more than his minions trying to protect the Knicks from the evil media.

Dolan is a fucking dictator, in every sense of the word, and his gross violation of every concept sacred to the PR world has gotten him exactly what he deserves: everyone hating his and his organization’s guts.

No comments: