From a purely public relations point of view, the damage that was done has cracked in so many ways and will continue for so long, that you have to wonder what was going through their heads and who they consulted to make their termination decision. While this was a baseball management decision, the scenario could have been any industry.
The New York Mets have a new $800 million stadium opening next spring and a long sports legacy and fan base in one of the country's largest cities. Now the simple firing of three employees has shaken all of that up, causing a tremendous media and fan backlash, and throwing into question who wants to be associated with what the New York Times' William Rhoden called "a Mickey Mouse operation."
To sum up the situation: With a $140 million payroll, the Mets have underperformed for the past year, with growing displeasure for the way manager Randolph motivated the team and his various in-game moves. While Randolph is a New York sports legend, as dignified and classy as they come, he was getting more and more in the firing line, despite the fact that the aging, bumbling team was assembled by his boss, general manager Omar Minaya. Then last night, after his team beat the Los Angeles Angels out in California, Randolph was surprised to go back to his hotel and find Minaya waiting for him to fire him and his coaches. The Mets sent out a press release at 3:14 am EST announcing the firing. Because of the timing, the story was in no morning newspapers, but quickly hit the wires, the web, television and radio.
Here's the damage report:
- Mets beat reporters feel blindsided by a huge announcement sent to them in an e-mail at 3:14 am, appearing to circumvent their deadlines for the next day's paper. They are also miffed because of the way Randolph was dismissed, a few reporters likening it the Grim Reaper waiting for his victim to arrive. RESULT: Vicious nasty stories all over the web filed by those same reporters berating the ownership, calling them cowardly and classless. Instead of having the reporters on their side discussing why the firing was done and Randolph's tenure, the conversation was about the way the firing was done and how the Mets tried to sneak one past them at three in the morning. I know for a fact that daily papers are now working on features about people and their true life inept stories for tomorrow, so the stink of the firing spreads even further than the sports pages.
- Fans were divided about Willie Randolph's managerial performance in the past, but now they are united in their disgust for Mets management bumbling the way they fired him. RESULT: Willie Randolph becomes a sports martyr.
- With a new expensive stadium in the wings and the SNY cable television network carrying their games, the Mets put themselves in a more vulnerable position with advertisers and fans to support them.
- Job candidates are going to have to think twice before working for the Mets organization.
While anybody with foresight could have seen the damage as subtle as a flying sledgehammer, who is running the public relations show at the New York Mets?
* If it's the owning Wilpon family, then that's big problem number one. When executives who are unqualified to handle the press and comprehend public relations strategy take charge without listening to anybody, that's usually a surefire recipe for disaster. The Wilpons should act like good owners and stick only to what they do best: counting money.
* If it's vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz or an outside public relations firm, they should be dismissed. When everybody has turned on management, that is not a sound PR strategy.