Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Not Quite Getting It

I had the rare (for me) opportunity to hear Courtside Monday Night last night. The lineup of guests was impressive and it was a really good show. You could feel the energy in the room among the broadcasters. The organization seems genuinely excited about the future, which is good to see.

Kevin Pritchard hit the phrase "changing the culture" hard a couple of times during the evening. Obviously this is a point of emphasis and it's one that will find a sympathetic ear among the fan base. He also used the metaphor of family to describe the organizational outlook...a phrase which is also being repeated by the players from what I've heard.

Despite this promising talk, there were also a couple moments that made me think that for all their effort and apparent good intentions, the Blazers are holding on to some counterproductive assumptions which, if not examined and modified, will leave them short of their goal of reconnecting with the community.

The first moment came when Mike Barrett, himself now a blogger, described blogs as a 300-pound gorilla in need of taming. At the very least there's a sensitivity, and probably more of an antipathy, towards public comment (and criticism) of the team among its organizational representatives, including the representatives whose express job it is to facilitate communication with the public. That's counterproductive.

Blogs are plentiful and varied but they all have one thing in common: they are written by fans, people who are passionate about the team. The more blogs, the more words, the more readers, the more passion...it's as simple as that. Sometimes those words will be positive, sometimes critical. That's the nature of fandom. I guarantee you that in Pittsburgh right now some fans are criticizing the latest Steeler moves, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a fan base more dedicated or a team more successful at this moment in time.

The most famous post of this blog was undoubtedly the second draft-night post about the process of trading draft picks. And yes, it was critical of the way the Blazers operated (but not of the overall results). That post got 40 comments. I got another 18 e-mails besides. That's 58 people who took the time to pour their hearts and opinions onto virtual paper and express them to me and the world. How exactly is that bad for the Blazers? Many of those posts were critical of my take, but that didn't hurt overall blog readership one bit. It's tripled since then. That's not bad at all. Let's say the situation were reversed, and the Blazers posted a carefully-thought out critique that said while they were fans of my writing in general and followed it closely, they thought I was in error on this one point and wanted to make that known. Do you think that would hurt this blog? I'd get six million hits after that!

The Blazers shouldn't be suspicious of blogs, nor should they be looking to tame, moderate, or in any way fight them. They should be praying that a hundred more sprout up overnight. I know it's difficult for people in the organization to get a good feel for the grass roots fan base, but they've got to realize how unique and exciting it is that this conversation is happening, even if it's occasionally critical. If you had said out loud in 2003 that you didn't agree with something the Blazers did in their draft, the response wouldn't have been 58 e-mails and comments, it would have been a collective "Who cares?" That apathy is what the team should truly fear. Blogs help pull people out of it and back into contact with the team and the game. I hope the sentiment expressed by Barrett is not widespread or typical, not just because I am blogging, but because I really think in pursuing that line the organization will shoot itself in the foot in an area that would otherwise be to its advantage.

The second moment came not from a specific comment, but from a strong overall impression that the Blazers still see themselves in an adversarial postition with the media and public as a whole. Their response to the AM 1080 rumor was indicative, as were a couple other things they said regarding their publicity. In case you haven't noticed, part of their coping strategy is to supplant media outlets with their own broadcast sources, third-party websites with their own websites, blogs with their own blogs, and so on. They will use information control as the lever to cement this change. We've already seen part of the strategy in the famous "recording every word" policy and the draft workout shenanigans. It's hard to overstate what a mistake this is.

As far as blogs and websites, as we just said, the Blazers should want more, not less of them. Online venues work on the movie principle of marketing. Going to one movie doesn't prevent you from going to others. In fact it actually encourages you to go to more. The Blazers should indeed be adding their official voice to the online conversation, but it should be to spur this activity, not to limit it.

As far as the official media, you WANT these guys to have access to your stuff and to report on it. Taking the news in-house is always a mistake. You never get the result you want. If you report good news people always take it with a grain of salt because, well, it's coming from you! (If I go out and say this blog is great, for instance, it has little standing because what else am I supposed to say? If someone else says it the credibility factor goes way up.) And the first time you have bad news to report and try to spin it with the official line, people smell the difference and then your credibility is shot altogether. So whether the news is good or bad you never get the result you want. You cannot win.

Furthermore, trying to supplant the media gives them more credibility, not less. It makes them seem like truth-tellers with the guts to say what you will not. Throughout modern history every country and organization that has tried to do an end run around the media by taking reporting in-house has only served to make them more important. As with the online component, the Blazers should certainly be giving themselves press, but they should be doing it in such a way as to involve the local media, not to fight it or attempt to shut it out.

Maybe some people don't worry about these things. I do. I always worry when I hear someone state a goal and then do things which, intentionally or not, are going to subvert that goal. I like the direction the Blazers appear to be headed, on and off the court, but there's going to have to be a little bit of intentional forgetting and a lot of peacemaking forthcoming to sustain it. You cannot have a family when half of the participants are harboring resentment towards the other half, let alone actually fighting them. I pray the Blazers are wise enough to realize this, otherwise this experiment will die on the vine. And that would be sad.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

13 Comments:

Anonymous jorga said...

Aaargh, a 300 lb. gorilla that needs taming... (Doesn't he know that gorillas are generally pretty gentle creatures?)

Are they going to start "taming" water cooler talk? Sports bar talk? This is just an online version. It isn't always possible to find someone who shares your interests in your daily interactions so you find suitable places online. Online bulletin boards have been in existance for probably 20 yrs. and I have always been able to find a place to talk about what interests me. Now with blogs we have many more choices of where to go and if you can't find one that quite suits you - start your own.

In another part of the entertainment world, I'm not aware that movie studios try to quiet criticism of their latest offerings. They just pick up the positive and run with that. Critic A says, "the least enjoyable movie of the summer" and the PR team prints "Critic A says,"...enjoyable..." which is an exact quote. Not the whole truth, but he did say it.

So what is the front office afraid of? That reading criticism will turn away fans? Don't people go to movies in spite of bad reviews? Of course. Even if your best friend hates it you might not.

Who do you suppose is behind this? I'm wondering if it goes up as far as P. Allen. Maybe he doesn't like people criticizing his toy. We know he doesn't always make good business decisions or surround himself with appropriate people so I just wonder if maybe it comes from him and his minions scamper to fulfill his wish.

I'm blathering here - maybe because I am so annoyed by what appears to be a Big Brother approach : stamp out the naysayers.

I think this blog (and its readers) should take it upon itself (ourselves?) to come up with a good marketing slogan for this season. I did like the "ready or not here we come" for last season and I always interpreted it as THEM maybe not being ready and I thought it took guts to put that right out front. I think there are more than enough brain cells here to equal/top that one. (Especially since WE know better than they do what makes a fan.)

Have a safe trip home, Dave. We need you.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous TP43 said...

Great stuff Dave, I've really enjoyed all of your Vegas posts. Keep it coming!

Regarding the media control, this seems to have been getting more and more prevalent over the last few months and I'm thrilled that the Blazers are putting so much into making themselves a premier source of Blazer information (got to give them credit, it's been fantastic) but the "take my ball and go home" routine has been more than a little tiring. Personally I don't care who I get my information from, I feel I'm capable of deciding for myself who's shooting straight and who's blowing sunshine up the proverbial skirt. Honestly, the Blazer brass does a pretty fair job of making themselves look like jackasses on a routine basis so I don't think their grand scheme is going to make any difference in the long run and they'll drop it eventually. I didn't get to listen to the CSMN show so I didn't hear the Blog comment in context but it doesn't surprise me. In any case, whoever the genius was that decided the big brother act was a good idea won't be long for this job anyway.

Blogs like this are a fantastic way for fans to stay in touch with their team and criticism is part and parcel and a smart management team will learn to read, analyze, and adjust their strategies based on what they are seeing from the fans. It reminds me of the high school jock who is incredibly insecure and can't handle criticism trying to make their perceived adversary look dumb but getting the boomerang back on themselves. Ah well, at least they're reading and that tells me you've got a voice Dave and that's far more important than their shortsightedness. Keep up the good work!

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Mortimer said...

I took Barrett's comment to be in reference to the rumor mill the blogs churn out... because this was in reference to some Miles rumor that I hadn't heard of (I'm assuming it was being discussed, just not with me) that they felt the need to shoot down.

I didn't see it quite like a slam against blogs and the fans who run 'em, I thought it was simply about how quickly rumors and trade scenarios crop up in forums and blogs (I'd say mostly forums) and it can get "out of control".

Of course, I don't see why it matters if it DOES get out of control; it's just a rumor, and usually just made up because (like ya said) a fan is just really into the team. To someone actually involved with trades and running the Blazers (Pritchard, etc), some rumor coming from whoknowswhere out in fanville shouldn't affect you at all.

Mortimer

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why the whining about the Blazers supposed attempt to "control" the media? It seems ridiculous to me. Of course any organization wants good relations with the public. But The Oregonian and 1080 radio have been way overboard in their ongoing criticism of the Blazers. Canzano is trying to make a national name for himself so he can move on to a bigger city. We do not need such carpetbaggers creating and exacerbating ill will with Oregon's only major league sports franchise. One wonders if Canzano would consider it a feather in his cap if he helped drive the Blazers out of town. Kirk

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Toast said...

Wow. Same in sports as it is in politics, huh? I'm sick to death of anti-blog hysteria. Just seems like some people can't help getting their panties in a twist when others have the audacity to express their opinions.

Keep up the outstanding work.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Mortimer...I think you're exactly right about the "rumor mill" aspect of the comment. But I think you're also right in asking why it matters. In fact I'd go even further in saying that it HELPS stir interest in the Blazers (as I said in the post) even if the rumor turns out not to be true. I mean, what are people talking about in the O-Live forum in the off-season if not rumors...first draft, now trade?

OK...just drove straight from Las Vegas. Must sleep now. Final game thoughts and overall summer league summation this afternoon. Maybe LATE this afternoon. Zzzzzzz...

--Dave

8:19 AM  
Anonymous fatty said...

i keep telling you people the
blazers do not care about the
everyday person, they just don't
m.barrett of all people should
know that without the everyday
person supporting your product
your sunk, and when they did'nt
get morrison that really killed
off the everyday lumberjack
person, see nothing against
aldridge, but morrison*roy combo
would've had people very excited
see you guys seem to forget
you're diehards blazers fans
but without the once diehard
blazers supporters who left
this decade they're not coming
back, maybe to see morrison if
he's anything like his last 2
exibition games than you'll really
hear the morrison chants and
jerseys being seen everywhere
in portland, think not let
morrison start off strong and
aldridge be a 2-3 project like
many are saying, you'll have
more bobcats fans in portland
than blazers fans !!!!
why because of the way the blazers do business, which is very elitist
towards the people who can't
afford a ticket for 4 see
sometimes people just don't
wan't to be at a game, i for one
don't do nosebleeds, i do either
courtside-$131.00-96.00 seats
at the r.garden, that's just me
but i bet you the same people
who don't like this team anymore
feel the same way, only difference
is i can afford those seats they can't for some, maybe if the
blazer front office get some
human quality in them and say
cut the ticket prices by 20%
accross the board, and reach
out to the everyday person in
the portland area, things will
begin to change for the better
i for 1 love their draft, but
they should've threw the fans
a bone and drafted morrrison*roy
to get the juice back in this
sorry franchise, i know this is a long statement but it's true you
diehard guys*girls should think
about the ones who was once united
with you who're now will always
be against you, all because of
the way management treat the
everyday just making ends meet
people, dave get home safe buddy
and blazer diehards just remember
what i said in this paragraph !!!

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fatty said: they should've threw the fans a bone and drafted morrrison*roy
to get the juice back in this
sorry franchise

The 'juice' would have been back in the franchise for a little while sure...but the Blazers took the two players they felt would help the team the most in the long run. Average fans, even diehard fans, don't really know THAT much about what it takes to put together an NBA team. I liked the looks of Adam Morrison's game, but then again...Aldridge looks like he could end up being an absolute beast.

Top that off with this: if we HAD taken Adam Morrison #2 overall, I bet you a dollar that Charlotte would have taken Brandon Roy #3...because he may just be the best player in this draft class. He's been an absolute monster in the summer league and shows no signs that it's a fluke.

Fans, both casual and die hard, just want to watch a team that makes headlines by winning games. That's what the Blazers look like they're building. In my opinion, THAT will do more to bring back fans than drafting a guy with a bad moustache who can't play defense.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm interested to see Morrison, sure, but I think folks will like Aldridge.

--Dave

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Dr.Dave said...

Wouldn't it be great to see Mychal teamed with Barrett? It would be the game within the game.

3:58 AM  
Blogger jojack said...

Great thoughtful post Dave. It seems as if the blazer brass has this severe disdain for any kind of critical review, whether by traditional media or online blogs, zines, etc... What they don't realize is that people like us are the die-hard fan base they should be playing to. we are (metaphorically of course) the social conservative christians to their george bush. now, bear in mind, i loathe george bush much in the same way many in the previous generation loathed nixon. but you had to hand it to both of those evil hacks... they knew (and know) where their bread is buttered. the reason i read your blog (religiously i might add) is that it is one of the only forums for discussing the blazers with informed, intelligent, passionate fans. if i bring up the blazers at the local bar (i live at the coast), the reaction will range from completely idiotic (they should have kept clyde and strickland!) to totally uninformed (they should trade everyone for dwayne wade!) to the most common reaction: "who gives a #%$&!" don't they realize that when times are hard and your product sucks, and yet a bunch of people take hours of their valuable time to talk about the team...you might want to embrace these customers!!! in a related note, i love pritchard's style, too. his podcast from a couple weeks ago about the draft was some of the most seemingly honest, unspun talk i've heard from the blazers for a long time. lets give him a shot, ala theo epstein. that worked out okay for the sox.

12:38 PM  
Blogger jojack said...

just another quick note. i see about ten games a year, and would see more if not for the long drive from the coast. i watch every television game. i tape games and send them to my business partner in japan. i will be moving to la this year, and will attempt to attend every clippers/lakers versus blazers game. the point is, i put my money where my online mouth is. That's why the blazers should respect and encourage my right to free expression.

12:44 PM  
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