The Mets strike out in crisis communications

During the fourth quarter of 2008, it often felt as if the world (or at least the financial world), was ending.

During the fourth quarter of 2008, it often felt as if the world (or at least the financial world), was ending.  Then in December, when it seemed that things couldn't get much worse, the news broke that money manager Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme. Among the names linked to Madoff as potential victims was the Wilpon family - owners of the New York Mets.

I remember the Wilpons' issuing a brief statement ensuring that the baseball team would not be impacted by its owners' financial losses. That seemed reasonable to me at the time but now, looking back, it seems clear that the Wilpons and the Mets should have acted much more proactively to prepare themselves for the ongoing issues spawned by the Madoff fraud. As a PR professional, I've always been taught to rehearse my disasters. That guidance would have come in handy for whoever was advising the Wilpons at that time.

The first rule of crisis communications is to get all the bad news out in the open as quickly as possible. Letting it dribble out slowly erodes the credibility of an organization and its people.  Look at the situation the Mets find themselves in now.

About a month ago, news broke that the Wilpons were seeking a minority investor (25%) in the Mets. They insisted that they would not cede control of the club. This came after a winter where they were conspicuously absent when it came to acquiring new players to buttress what had been a particularly bad team in 2010. While we were digesting that information, another nickel dropped.

In the Madoff fraud, we learned that there were victims and then there were victims. While every Madoff investor woke up one day to find they were not as well-off as they had thought, some victims had actually withdrawn more money from their Madoff accounts than they had initially deposited. They were still victims in the sense that a substantial portion of their net worth had disappeared, but they had actually profited over the life of the fraud. They soon found that a creditors trustee was seeking to “claw back” a portion of those profits.  The Wilpons found themselves in this category, with media reports suggesting that they might be made subject to clawbacks as high as $1 billion.

Unfortunately, from the Mets point of view, there's more. Last Friday, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, acknowledged that his organization had loaned the Mets $25 million in the waning days of 2010 to meet cash flow needs. As George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times: “If the Mets had the shorts for $25 million, what else could they have the shorts about?”  Perhaps more ominously, he noted that: “the Mets are searching for a minority partner, but who would jump in while still learning just how damaged this franchise is?”

In sum if the Mets have more disasters ahead, they better start to rehearse them. The ostrich approach is not holding them in good stead.

Donna McSorley is VP, director of Media Relations at BlissPR

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