How Paint Made People Lose Their Minds

HOF Pres David Baker_Cantonrep.com Scott Heckel)

Brow of Embarrassment. NFL Hall of Fame President David Baker wipes his forehead prior to an interview. Baker and the Hall of Fame had to cancel their preseason game to due poor field conditions created by using the wrong type of paint. Photo by Cantonrep.com, Scott Heckel)

This is what happens when an exhibition is supposed to be played by athletes making millions of dollars in an organization worth billions of dollars. When the game cannot take place, analysts call for others to lose their jobs, calls of ineptitude abound, and finger pointing runs rampant.

Sunday, Aug. 7 was a busy day in sports which included baseball players Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits and A-Rod announcing his retirement,  golfer Jim Furyk hitting a PGA Tour record round of 58, and U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky smashing her own world record in the Olympics, which looked something like the image below; note: she’s on the far right.

Katie Ledecky_ESPN

She gone! U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky blows away the field in her Olympic race as she breaks her own world record.

In addition, there was a furor created when the NFL had to cancel its “Hall of Fame” preseason game in Canton, Ohio between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

The stadium was brand new, the field was brand new, and unfortunately, so was the paint, which the wrong kind was applied just 12 hours earlier. This proved to be key sticking point, literally. Players and coaches complained that parts of the field either felt like concrete or felt like running in tar. In technical terns, the paint congealed and wouldn’t allow a cleat to penetrate it. As a result, the game was canceled.

Yes, fans paid their money and spent their time to be there. Yes, the game was supposed to be the culmination of celebrating the latest Hall of Fame class of players inducted the night before. Yes, there is no excuse to not have a field ready when the date has been determined a year in advance.

When a crisis like this occurs and an audience needs to be addressed – in this case the millions watching at home and the thousands in attendance – it can be a complicated dance. However, here are three things the NFL Hall of Fame actually did well in announcing the result of their crisis, taking the hit head on*:

  1. Front and Center: Often when things go awry, it’s easy to blame outside factors or even hide your organization’s top leaders. The NFL HOF had their President, David Baker, address the crowd directly and then proceeded with follow-up interviews.
  2. Simple Messaging: Instead of listing a complicated technical explanation of why the field wasn’t ready or how paint couldn’t dry, Baker simply did the following:
    1. Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
    2. Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
    3. Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
    4. Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
  3. Rinse and Repeat: In subsequent interviews, he stayed on point – admittedly and rightfully embarrassed – to explain the situation, express regret, and vow to correct the problem in the future.

Even with these three “rights,” there was one awkward matter that still occurred. Those closest to the action were the last to know … it was announced on TV the game was being cancelled nearly a full hour before fans inside of the stadium were told. Oh well, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

 

*Pun not intended; the NFL has serious concussion issues which is a whole other topic altogether.

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Why ‘DeflateGate’ is Dumb

Brady4

Is this a face you can trust?

This week sports channels, social media, and even news sources like CNN, The Huffington Post, and TIME Magazine (!?!) are weighing in on what is being called “DeflateGate;” the latest term to be presumed a scandal because “gate” is used after the root word. For those unfamiliar, the premise is this: The NFL found that the New England Patriots used 11 footballs that were underinflated in their AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

A game that resulted in a 45-7 victory for the Patriots sending them to the Super Bowl and the Colts home to a state split into two different time zones. The brouhaha or hullabaloo producing the outlandish outrage is that the Patriots, who are no stranger to controversy (Google: Spygate), purposely cheated to gain an advantage. While the head coach may not have known, Tom Brady, the quarterback, probably, likely, should have known the balls were not up to game regulation.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I write this, there are 8,040,000 results that populated when Googling the term “DeflateGate.” There have been press conferences, current and former players weighing in, and endless chatter … all about the amount of air in a ball. First-world problems, much?

From a communications perspective, much is being made about Tom Brady’s press conference, where he stated:

  • “I didn’t alter the ball in any way … I have a process I go through before every game.”
  • “I would never do anything outside of the rules of play.”
  • “This is a serious thing.”

All while trying to keep a straight face while wearing in a stocking cap with a fuzzy ball on top, indoors.

Sometimes he couldn’t’ help himself such as when he was asked if he was a cheater. After finally cracking, he pauses, licks his lips, and then answers “I don’t think so.” Body language experts would tell you this reaction means two things: He’s lying! Or he’s just nervous. (Never mind the ironic “Flexball” sponsorship in the background during an issue in which the pressure of the football seems to be exactly that: flexible).

Maybe Brady was laughing not because he was lying (maybe he was) or nervous (despite his ability to calmly stare down 300-lb men trying to do him bodily harm every Sunday). Maybe he realized how ridiculous Deflategate had become and was laughing at the lunacy of the whole spectacle; the same way most of our six-year-old selves chuckle every time we hear something about “deflated balls” while this is being discussed.

But the bottom line is this: The Colts lost by a 35-point pounding. Not by a controversial “tuck rule” fumble (also involving the Patriots). Not by a narrowly missed field goal. Not by that one touchdown pass that could have only been thrown and caught because there was a smidge less air in the ball.

The Patriots blew the Colts right out of the barn. Even if you take the 18 points off the board from the touchdowns that Brady threw, the Patriots still had a commanding 17-point victory.

So from a communications standpoint, what can be learned from Deflategate? Simple: Any and everything can and will be used to fill up a 24-7 news cycle leading up to “the big game.” Just be smart enough to block some of it out and keep things in perspective.