Sometimes that’s all you have to say to launch a storm of criticism about today’s way to select the best team in college football.
Just ask Bill Hancock, last week’s newly named executive director of the Bowl Championship Series. To be sure, Hancock is no Johnny-come-lately. He was the first director of the Final Four who helped grow that event to its immense stature, and in my brief interactions with him, found him to be one of the nicest individuals in college athletics. None of that would save him from what Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples called “one of the worst jobs in the world”, or an interview with Dan Patrick during which Hancock answered with scripted rhetoric and at times, seemed truly befuddled.
Hancock, in what was likely a planned strategy, took the helm of the BCS at the same time the organization’s social media went live. Almost immediately, the Twitter and Facebook pages’ mere existences brought about loads more jeers than cheers.
So, what’s an organization and seasoned sports manager to do when according to at least one poll, more than 70 percent dislike your system?
Hire outside consultants.
On November 21, BCS officials announced it hired Ari Fleischer Communications, a sports public relations firm headed by a former press secretary for President George W. Bush.
Upon learning of Fleischer’s hiring, I put out a question to my social media posse: Will the hiring of Ari Fleischer Communications help, hurt or not matter when it comes to the image of the BCS?
The answers came from sports fans and media contributors, alike. Among them:
“Not sure it will help,” said Scott Viar, who is @backseatgaffer on Twitter. “[It] will amount to spin control and little actual engagement with public perception of value of BCS v. playoff.”
“To the common fan his hiring will go unnoticed,” said Dave Haase (@cityvol on Twitter) “To the media it will be like blood in the water.”
I have been in the sports publicity business for a long time, and this is the fiercest I’ve ever witnessed a brand bashed by the public. I’ve long believed that the BCS needed image enhancement guidance. Will Fleischer, the same guy who swooped in to help the Green Bay Packers during the Brett Favre fiasco, be the one to help? He certainly can’t hurt, although as Haase said, much of his work may be more evident behind the scenes than to the average fan.
But what about all of the negative comments pouring in on the BCS Twitter page and on live blogs during interviews, such as the one Patrick conducted with Hancock? How does the BCS make it stop?
It doesn’t. At this point, I think it can only calm the waters from tidal wave to trickle.
I agree with Daniel Prager, who in a blog post, wrote in favor of the BCS’ Twitter presence. There must be dialogue between people who have an investment in the event. Right now, the majority sees the BCS as an organization that cares about little more than the dollars it generates. Through its communication via Twitter and Facebook, it must let fans and followers know they are heard and respected, regardless of their opinions. These are the same people who will potentially support modifications to the system, and sing praises to attentive responses, in the future. The BCS needs them.
The public is much more discriminating and has more avenues to voice their opinions than at any time since the inception of the college bowl structure. Condescending or non-attentive messaging have ways of traveling at warped speeds and when people are displeased, they will make sure those messages are shared ten-fold.
I wish the BCS luck, if only to make it a valuable publicity/PR teaching tool for sports administrators in the future. I will be glued to social and traditional media to see how this all plays out.