How Should Sports Teams Deal With Speculation?

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“Psst..did you hear that LeBron James isn’t really hurt? How about that Big Papi is going to be released this week?”

As a sports fan, these are the types of stories we read about throughout the week. Whether it’s about the status of an underperforming player or discussion around if a team will fire their coach in the coming weeks (see here),  we hear more about what our favorite teams may do, as opposed to what they are currently doing. And you know what? We love it. That’s why we listen to WFAN 24/7, play fantasy sports, and argue with our friends about who is to blame for our favorite team’s dissapointing record.

But there’s another side to the story. I’d be willing to bet the average blood pressure of coaches and front office executives are higher than the normal adult due to the reports they read in the newspaper and the commentary they hear about online regarding their teams. This begs the question, what should teams do when new rumors surface? Should they ignore it? Issue a statement? Or is this simply the way their business is and they should accept it?

Personally, I’m not sure teams CAN do anything. Athletes, and the teams that pay their ridiculous salaries, are going to be scrutinized and talked about left and right for every move they make, and don’t make. Maybe it’s up to the PR dept. to issue as much positive news as possible in an effort to combat any negativity that might come out about the team or one of its players? Maybe they already do this and it doesn’t work?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts on what teams should do when new rumors and speculation surface.

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12 comments on “How Should Sports Teams Deal With Speculation?

  1. You’re correct on a few fronts here, Andrew. Sports media will speculate and keep the rumor mill going–even the best PR pro’s and front offices can’t stop that. (The large majority of leaks are not started by the PR staff, or star players, or prominent front office execs.)

    The best you can do is ensure your front office staff and players stick to the PR plan (whatever it may be) to stop rumors as quickly as possible.

    • Thanks for the comments, Andy, and love getting thoughts from new posters!

      Agree with your points. The best answer here may be to just continue to educate players and front office staff about these sorts of things

  2. Great topic here, bud.

    There are multiple issues at play here – let me try to explain.

    1) Media is Business – Yes, Edward Murrow may be rolling over in his grave, but today’s media outlets exist to sell, sell, sell advertising. Sports talk radio wants to jack your passion for your favorite team and transfer it to their car dealership of choice. Any hope of journalistic integrity from talk radio (sports or political) went out the door eons ago.

    2) Different Places. As a former sports talk radio host, I’ve studied media outlets from around the nation. Los Angeles sports media culture is lightyears different than that in Philadelphia. Different fanbases react differently. In Dallas, for example, Cowboys chatter can be heard 24/7/365. In New York, it’s more baseball-heavy.

    3) Need to Contribute. Sports fans feel a burning desire to chip-in to the conversation, even if they have nothing new or even truthful to say. They spiral rumors out of control. Perfect example: my beloved 9-23 Baltimore Orioles have said publicly and privately that manager Dave Trembley’s job is safe. Yet, fans keep quoting “rumblings” that Dave will be job-hunting on the next off-day. There’s no smoke and no fire – just a lot of hot air.

    As for what teams can do? Winning always helps. But, why DO they need to do anything? If fans want to keep the team on the forefront of conversation, why not let the rampant speculation rule and let the team be the talk of the town?

    • You make some really good points, Mike. Totally agree about letting the team be the talk of the town, but what about when that talk is negative? Remember, you are talking to a Mets fan here and while the Yankees own the airwaves and the back page of the NY Post, a ton of the conversation on WFAN is about how terrible the Mets are. Maybe I’m just bitter!

  3. Interesting Post Andrew,

    It depends on the magnitude of the rumor. If it a small squabble between teammates during practice about one guy forgetting to bring donuts then its no big deal if it gets leaked out. People will forget in about a week.

    I think a good chunk of team rumors come from within the organization whether its a PR Guy, trainer, security guard, or assistant coach.

    But if its more serious all teams can do is play damage control whether its the Steelers Big Ben situation or revealing a player’s injuries. Maybe teams can ban reporters like ESPN’s Chris Mortenson from every arena because he has a secret source/mole from all 32 NFL teams. Nah, don’t wont work because there are things called cell phones.

  4. Hey Andrew, good post. As someone that has worked in the PR for an NBA team I can tell you that the teams’ PR staff definitely gets a good chuckle out of following some of the rumor mills online, and they also sometimes get a little ticked at some of the ridiculous rumors.

    There really isn’t much you can do, it’s kind of the nature of the beast. Since a lot of times the rumors are coming from beat writers or bloggers and their job is to follow team, players and rumors/news, they’re usually not going to buy the PR staff sending them some fluffy positive news to deflect the rumor.

    IMO the greatest asset a PR person for a team can have is the development of amazing/trusting relationships with the outlets and beat reporters that cover their team on a regular basis. We probably wouldn’t issue a statement on a rumor, but if I’ve built a trusting a relationship with a beat writer, I can slow a rumor down and get the correct info out there by just speaking with them one-on-one, maybe before a practice or pregame. I can get our message out and maybe change how a player or staff member might get asked about it later.

    If it’s a legal issue or trade rumors you just have to educate the players to not engage and use no comment, or especially for legal issues have the players not respond other than to tell the media to contact their lawyer.

    The type of rumor would dictate how you’d respond though.

    Brian
    @BGleas

    • You must have had a fun, stressful gig in Boston! Great point about relationships, though, Brian. To your point, those are probably the best friends you have when rumors start swirling

  5. Having been in the business myself for the better part of 10 years, I find this a very interesting topic. One thing that makes the job almost impossible in sports media is having a leak on your own PR staff. This is the nightmare situation and should never be tolerated. To make sure this never occurred I would infrequently create my own rumor about a certain player or executive on our team and pass it along to one of our PR staff members. If the rumor ever got reported back to me by someone else then I knew we had a leak in our department and I knew who the leak was. This might sound out there, and I admit it is an unconventional method, but it actually does work.

    For example, one time a couple of years ago I had my suspicions about one of our employees in the PR department and sure enough my method worked. I told the individual that the wife of one of our executives was having a relationship with one of the players on our team. Needless to say, the rumor made its way through our entire organization and even into one of the local papers. My instincts were spot on and the HR employee who passed along the rumor was eventually let go.

    The moral of the story is that trust is the most important element when it comes to sports media. Having a staff you can depend on makes all the difference. Also, you were right in your post about being positive. That is one of the few things capable of being controlled and was something we focused on daily and is the best way to combat negative speculation about your team and organization.

    • You hate doing things like that, but sometimes you have to in order to patch up any leaks you might have. Very interesting info and good advice for people that find themselves in similar situations.

      Thanks, Greg!

  6. In Detroit, right now the time of year is Red Wings and they don’t even dominate the air waves as much as they used to. Even though Detroit is NOT a football winning city people seem to be talking about the Lions constantly.

    Speculation about Nick Lidstrom is really getting heavy right now and every sound bite turns into either a blog post or an article in the newspaper. Will he or won’t he retire?

    I don’t think you can solve the issue with everyone. The Internet is a speaker to your teams heart with the fans.

    But I think listening to the fans is best… you can hear what they think but you don’t really need to act on it.

    • How can everyone be talking about a terrible Lions team when the Red Wings are in the playoffs? Crazy, isn’t it? But I think we’d both agree that the speculation/rumors are what makes things fun as a fan.

      Thanks for the comments, Jamie!

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