O’s today: MacPhail’s done his part, but what about the marketing and PR?

June 03, 2009 | Drew Forrester

The Orioles haven’t had a winning season since 1997 and it appears there’s yet another sub-.500 campaign on the horizon in 2009 — but there’s probably more optimism for the O’s on-field product right now than we’ve had in Charm City over the last 12 years.

And rightfully so.

I’m not quite ready to delay any planning for October golf weekends in case there’s a conflict with playoff baseball at Camden Yards – and I’m sure you’re not, either – but I also believe we’re going to see a meaningful September baseball game in Baltimore at some point between now and the end of 2011.

And ultimately, there are two people to thank for the team’s upswing:  Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos (for hiring him and leaving him alone).

Since Angelos has shown on numerous occasions to not exactly be the Einstein of Baseball Decisions, we’ll glitter him with only minimal praise for the job MacPhail has done over the last 23+ months.  But fair is fair…and Angelos DID hire MacPhail and he DID step away and let the man do his job.

MacPhail – to borrow a term I use a lot – has done yeoman’s work in “fixing the team”.   The team isn’t fixed yet, completely, but it’s a repair job that’s closer to being done than it is to being started.

Andy MacPhail deserves the credit for the current state of the team’s on-field product.

So now, here’s the NEW question facing the Orioles.

Who’s going to fix the team’s marketing and public relations?

It’s not MacPhail, for sure.  I spent 45 seconds with him at the Nick Markakis press conference last January and he turned gray when the subject of marketing/PR was brought up…”I don’t mess with any of that stuff…I told Peter to just let me run the baseball team.  I find baseball players.  I don’t do marketing.”

Fair enough.

More than fair, I guess.  If you don’t know marketing, why try to convince people you do at the risk of your reputation?

I’ll ask the question again, then:  Who’s going to fix the team’s marketing and public relations?

By now, everyone who has paid a smidgen of attention to the O’s knows about their “policy” (more on that below…it’s not REALLY a policy) of not allowing their players to appear live on any local radio or TV show other than a broadcast partner, aka “rights holder”.

None of you out there have been able to see or hear Nolan Reimold, for example, talk about his first year in the big leagues and how much fun he’s having and how excited he is to be part of this O’s rebirth.  You know NOTHING about Jason Berken.  Or Brad Bergesen.  Or Matt Wieters for that matter.  Oh, you know Wieters went to Georgia Tech…but that’s about it.  You don’t “know” Matt Wieters.  No one in town is allowed to talk with him unless the team is getting paid.

When’s that going to change?  And most importantly, who’s going to come in, look at the team’s insane marketing and PR decisions, and say, “And you guys wonder why 10,000 people (supposedly) go out to the ballpark on a Wednesday night in May?”

There’s not a PR guy (or gal) worth their salt who thinks it’s smart to restrict your most valuable asset(s) from speaking with the public.  Two of the smarter PR minds in Baltimore (both of whom actually WERE O’s PR employees…do whatever you want with that), John Maroon and Spiro Alafassos, would never, ever march around town with their nose in the air and say, “The only people in Baltimore who can talk to our players live on the radio or TV are our broadcast partners.  Everyone else, be damned.”  They’re both very intelligent, savvy marketing professionals – Maroon and Alafassos – and they understand the old theory — “you get more bees with honey”.

Perhaps the smartest PR mind in Baltimore these days – from a sports standpoint, he IS the smartest, actually – is Kevin Byrne of the Ravens.  While Byrne and the Ravens do a great job of servicing and protecting their relationship with broadcast partner WBAL Radio, they also do a phenomenal job of allowing their own players to spread the gospel that is Ravens football all over the radio and TV airwaves in town.

Over the last month – completely OFF-SEASON for the Ravens – I’ve had the following players on my show alone:  Steve Hauschka, Jason Phillips, Derrick Martin, L.J. Smith and Brendan Ayanbadejo.  John Harbaugh, Kelley Washington and Chris Carr have appeared on other WNST shows recently.  And that’s just us, here, at WNST.  Other stations in town have had those players, perhaps, and scores of others throughout the spring.

The Ravens are smart.  They understand the value of letting their players “talk to the fans”.

The Orioles are not smart.

When’s that going to change?

And who’s going to fix it?

Don’t let Wieters-fever fool you from an attendance standpoint.  If not for the rock-star coming up last weekend against Detroit, we would have seen the all-too-typical 70,000 or so in attendance on Fri-Sat-Sun.

By the way, as I alluded to above, the dirty little secret in town is that there isn’t any kind of contractual agreement between the Orioles and their radio broadcast partner that calls for Orioles players to appear EXCLUSIVELY and ONLY on CBS Radio-owned stations in town.   Do you know how I know that?  Because a high-ranking CBS Radio official TOLD me that during a charity golf function in the Fall of 2008.

Another fib from the team.

Another attempt to try and win the fight they’ve started instead of just simply doing the right thing.

When Jason Berken pitched for Bowie, I had him on the air.  The Baysox were hoping to draw attention to the talented right hander and were eager to have him on “anywhere” in Baltimore with the thought it might lead to ticket sales.  Berken, while in Bowie, was (is) property of the Orioles.

Let me get this straight:  While in Bowie, with their PR people actually in touch with the basic mechanics of marketing, Jason Berken was allowed on the radio in Baltimore.  Now, as a member of the Orioles, I can’t talk to Jason Berken live on the air again.

Nick Markakis just started a new charity endeavor.  He and his wife Christina have purchased a home in the Sparks area…they’re dedicated to making Baltimore their full-time home…and Nick is apparently going to be a fixture in our community with The RightSide Foundation.  That’s the kind of stuff we like to see with our athletes in Baltimore.  It’s what makes Cal Ripken, Jr. an icon.  Make your living here — live here — and give back to the community.

To show Markakis a small measure of thanks, 20 of us gathered at Pine Ridge yesterday for an afternoon of golf…all to raise money for Nick’s new foundation.  And yet, Markakis isn’t allowed to come on the air with me to talk about his community work and the good deeds he’s doing (with the Orioles name attached) through The RightSide Foundation.

If you consider that smart or reasonable, you – as Charley Eckman would say, no doubt – “need a saliva test”.

Brian Matusz was the Os’ #1 draft pick in 2008.  He currently pitches for Frederick.  Last month, I had Matusz (and Billy Rowell, a Keys teammate) on the air with me to talk about Carolina League baseball.  The Keys were thinking that people in Baltimore might be inclined to make the 50-mile trip to Frederick to see one of the O’s high-profile minor leaguers if, in fact, they could effectively promote him in Charm City.

Let me get this straight:  I can have Matusz on the air with me when he’s NOT playing in Baltimore, but when he gets to Baltimore, I’m not allowed to have him on the air?  And neither is WBAL, WPOC, WTMD, WRBS or WCBM?  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense for the major league team in town who routinely draws (announced) weeknight crowds of 13,000.

I’ll ask the question again:  Who’s going to fix the team’s marketing and PR?

The folks currently making the marketing decisions are clearly more interested in “being right” than they are in actually getting fans to buy tickets.

The Ravens, as we’ve all seen time and time again, are interested in the exact opposite.

Their players and executives are allowed to roam the radio and TV airwaves to spread the word about their careers and their community work.   It gives everyone a fair chance to see, for example, what men like Dan Wilcox, Ed Mulitalo and Derrick Mason are doing in OUR neighborhoods to help improve the quality of life for people who need a little support.  And oh, by the way, those guys just happen to be good football players.  What a neat package, eh?  Good football players who are good men are doing good things in the community and the team actually lets the players on the air in town to promote their business and personal efforts.

That’s the Ravens for you — they know what they’re doing when it comes to marketing and PR.

MacPhail fixed the Orioles ON-FIELD product.  God Bless Him…

Who’s going to fix the team’s marketing?

Who?

It’s not the people there right now, that’s for sure.

They’ve displayed time and time again they have no ability to make reasonable, smart decisions that will benefit the team’s ticket sales and community-embrace efforts.

Peter Angelos woke up a couple of years ago and said, “I need to turn this franchsie over to a baseball guy who knows baseball and can fix the baseball product.”

Applause for Peter inserted here…

He did the right thing.

When will Peter look at the attendance figures in his ballpark and have that same internal conversation with himself about the club’s woeful marketing and PR?

“I need to turn the marketing and PR over to someone who knows marketing and PR and can fix the marketing and PR product.”

It’s the EXACT same conversation and decision he made regarding MacPhail.

They need a MacPhail-marketing-guy-or-gal to step in and say, “I’m going to fix this and we’re going to get people back in the seats but we’re going to have to blow-it-all-up first in order to get a fresh start.”

Or, they can continue restricting their players from appearing on the radio or TV in Baltimore and they can continue averaging 15,000 real live human beings in the seats for their home games.

I’m a dummy and I figured it out a long time ago.

The Ravens aren’t dummies and they’ve figured it out.

Get your players out EVERYWHERE and let the fans get to know them and embrace them.

If that becomes the Orioles marketing mantra, maybe people will start going to the games again.

Why wasn’t Nolan Reimold on the air last Thursday afternoon talking to the mid-day jocks at, for instance, WPOC, 98 Rock, WRBS, WNST or 92Q?  Reimold just produced (arguably) the biggest hit in the MacPhail tenure in the comeback over the Blue Jays on Wednesday and the team didn’t even bother having him out-and-about the day after to “spread the word” about how great it is to be an Oriole and how wonderful it felt to hit that home run for the (10,000) fans who were in the stands on Wednesday.

How insane is that?

So here’s how it gets summed up.

In June of 2007, the team admitted they had been doing it wrong.  They admitted that when they hired Andy MacPhail.   They turned the team over to him because they were doing it wrong on their own terms.   It took a lot for them to do that.  Hiring MacPhail was a complete admission that they weren’t able to fix it themselves.

To fix their marketing and PR, they would need to do the same thing:  Admit that they’ve been doing it wrong.  It wouldn’t be easy, of course.  But it’s the only way to start the repair process.  “We’ve been marketing this product wrong and we’re going to turn it over to some folks who know how to repair it.”

Back to the original question:

Who’s going to fix it?

And, more (much) importantly…WHEN is it going to get fixed?

Enough with the convenient fibs, the stuffy, holier-than-thou approach and the “we’re gonna do it our way and you’ll just fall in line” theme.

It’s not working.

It HASN’T worked.

It won’t work.

Time to put as much focus on the players and the product OFF THE FIELD as you put on the players and the product ON THE FIELD.  Unless they’re satisfied with the stands being 70% empty, they better get their marketing and PR fixed.

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