Full disclosure: I am a Phillies fan, so it doesn't bother me when the Mets are embroiled in controversy.
That said, the last couple of weeks have been more interesting than usual for the Mets and their fans. Mets owner Fred Wilpon has been the subject of stories in the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, where he has, among other things, criticized the performance of his team, questioned the value of high profile players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, and talked openly about the Mets losing up to $70 million this season. Of course, this is on top of Wilpon's association with the disgraced Bernie Madoff, which has caused him personal pain and embarrassment, financial losses, the need to sell a piece of the Mets for an infusion of cash, and a $1 billion lawsuit by Irving Picard, the trustee seeking to recover restitution for those who lost money with Madoff.
My first thought – not as a baseball fan, but as a PR professional – was why? Why would Wilpon even agree to participate in these stories?
Perhaps it was to try and gain sympathy as one of the people victimized by the Madoff travesty. Well, for those who lost their life savings, they probably don't identify that closely with Wilpon, who lost millions but whose ultimate recourse may be having to sell the Mets, as opposed to the people who have had to come out of, or postpone, retirement and scramble to make a living. Furthermore, a central point of the lawsuit is that, as experienced investors, Wilpon and his partners had knowledge, or should have, of what Madoff was doing. No matter how many times Wilpon says that he was duped like everyone else, there is going to be a part of the population who won't believe him. By continuing to talk about it, it is doubtful he will change many minds, and can only open himself up to further criticism.
Looking at it from a baseball perspective, maybe, in his critique of the team and its key players, Wilpon wanted to light a fire under the Mets and show the fans how much he cares, and that he's not happy with the team's record in recent years. He may have gone a little overboard with his comments of the players, but ultimately that is within his right. However, it was very much out of character for Wilpon, who has never publicly criticized players in his 30 years as owner.
It is also striking that, with several high player salaries scheduled to come off the Mets' books after this season, there are no plans to use that money to re-invest in the team for next year. So, while you may be trying to show the fans that you get frustrated with the performance just like they do, in the same instance you don't give them much hope that ownership will do whatever it can to improve the product on the field. Why should they stick with the team, then?
Ultimately, Wilpon hadn't very much to gain by doing the interviews and should have been advised against it. Whatever points he may have been trying to convey – ‘I was deceived by Madoff,' ‘I am angry about the Mets' performance too' – they were lost in his comments about the players, the team's financial situation, and by the fact that it didn't mesh with the public image that Wilpon has crafted for years. If someone in his position is going to engage the media, he should at least stay in character and not try to reinvent himself.
In Wilpon's bid to play offense with his message, foster goodwill, and change some opinions, he struck out.
Bill Holtz is a Managing Partner at Catalyst Public Relations, a consumer firm specializing in sports, entertainment and active lifestyle. Bill has directed marketing communications programs for a number of brands, including leveraging sponsorships surrounding the Olympic Games, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, college football, tennis, and golf.