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.
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*:
- 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.
- 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:
- Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
- Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
- Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
- Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
- 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.