Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Rooneys (and the NFL) Win and Win Big

Absolutely masterful.  I don't know who is calling the shots on this one but give him/them an A+.  With the franchise in apparent disarray (it isn't) and Steeler Nation angry as hell (some are) the Rooneys and the NFL have played this one spectacularly.

Ben Roethlisberger gets accused of rape in a college bar in Georgia.  Santonio Holmes throws a drink or a glass at a woman in a nightclub in Florida and then proceeds to tweet that he's gonna smoke dope and a critical fan should go kill himself.  Not exactly the behavior you are looking for from two of your key employees.  The two employees responsible for the touchdown that won you a Super Bowl 14 months ago.  Your team's reputation has taken a severe hit and people are asking whether the organization cares, whether it's coaching staff has lost control, whether it's coddling its superstars.  Time to go into crisis mode.  And we haven't seen it played this well in a long time.

Sammy Sosa pretended he couldn't speak English.  Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger in indignatinon.  Mark McGwire teared up and didn't want to talk about the past.  ARod butchered his apology and didn't own it.  Roger Clemens denied everything and made a fool of himself.  Michael Vick didn't take it seriously.  Tiger Woods went into hiding.  It's a slightly different situation in that the Rooneys didn't commit either offense.  But, they were wearing it nonetheless.  Talk show callers in Pittsburgh were wondering if they could still root for the team.  That my friends is a crisis of the highest order.

The wheels went in motion April 11 when the Steelers abruptly cuts ties with Holmes, trading him to the Jets for a fifth round draft choice.  The first message was sent.  No matter how good you are if you are repeatedly an idiot and make poor choices you are no longer going to be a member of this football team.  The media was shocked at how little the team got in return (incorrectly in my opinion as Holmes is going to miss 25% of the season due to suspension and is a free agent at the end of the year) and this helped as a first step in winning the PR battle.  It doesn't matter what we get in return we don't want this person associated with our team the Rooneys seemed to be saying.

Art Rooney II continued this process last week with a press conference in which he condemned the quarterback's behavior and said there would be consequences for his actions.  Not once did he point out that BR wasn't even charged with any criminal offense.  Not once did he try to plead for understanding or offer a sympathetic voice for his star quarterback.  Nope.  He stated flatly that management, the entire organization, the whole of Steeler Nation was incredibly disappointed and angered by BR's actions and that much had to be done on the young man's part to earn back the trust and support of those he had offended.  He said BR would be punished.

Art Rooney II hit it out of the park.  The only concession that Mr. Rooney made was in saying BR appeared to be contrite and would be allowed to participate in OTAs with his teammates.  Essentially, he said, "we're pissed as all hell, but he's still, for now, part of the family."  But, the groundwork was being laid.

Yesterday the NFL came down and it came down hard.  BR became the first player in the history of the league to be suspended without being arrested or charged with a crime and he was suspended for six games (which will most likely be reduced to four by the start of the season).  In an open letter the league outlined BR's transgressions and the reasons for his suspension.  It is by far the best letter I have ever seen in this regard--strong, evenhanded, personal and outlining a clear path to forgiveness and reinstatement.  The NFL does nothing better than protect its own image.  It understands how important its credibility is to having a fanbase.  With the suspension and accompanying action, Roger Goodell and staff moved decisively.  Art Rooney II and the Steelers came out fully supportive of the punishment.  In concert the League and the Steelers won big with the media, its players and their fans by suspending the "arrogant, reckless white quarterback" with a punishment longer than many anticipated.

The Rooneys and the Steelers are completing the final steps in the crisis plan as we speak.  It has been actively leaked that the Steelers are doing everything they can to trade their franchise quarterback.  The media is breathlessly reporting that the team is "desperate" to trade BR before the draft this evening.  Certainly this is designed to put the fear of god into #7 and appease the (smaller, in my opinion) part of the fanbase that wants blood, that never wants BR to put on the hallowed Steelers jersey again.

I think there is ZERO chance the Steelers move BR today or in the near future.  BR is a fantastic talent that has guided them to two Super Bowl victories in five years--and he's a bad guy and a jerk.  The team has already paid him an extraordinary sum of money in bonuses and guarantees under the 8 year, $102 million contract he signed in March 2008, making the rest of his remaining years under contract relatively reasonable.  The Rooneys are smart businessmen and realize, not only BR's talent, but the minuscule return they would get on such an investment if they were to trade him now.

No, the Rooneys aren't really looking to trade Ben Roethlisberger.  Rather, the PR machine is rolling in full force.  The fact that they are "investigating" the possibility will appease many of the fans that want him gone.  When the story is told that they could get nothing of value for him in return, BR will be appropriately humiliated and Steeler fans will nod understandingly.  And five months from now, when the quarterback returns from his suspension--cowed and contrite, not coincidentally just as the Steelers enter their bye week, the healing of Steeler Nation will begin.  Fans like to forgive and by leading the Steelers to the playoffs this fall, BR will earn himself a lot of forgiveness.

I'm not suggesting that the Rooneys are in anyway supportive of anything BR has done.  I believe they are mad as hell.  But they are also smart people with a very large investment in their team.  They know that BR brings great value to the franchise.  And being smart businessmen selling a product they also know they need to listen to and have the support of their fans.  Oiling the PR machine to protect their investment isn't disingenuous, rather it is brilliant.  They have done a fantastic job.  Now fans just have to decide what they are going to do when he takes the field Sunday, October 17th at home against the Cleveland Browns.

Well played, Rooneys, well played.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I believe the league, and owners, will continue to get tougher and tougher on players whose behavior angers their customers (fans). from a business perspective, it is absolutely the right thing to do and hopefully the players will start to realize they need to act like responsible adults, just as the rest of us with jobs (and customers to please) need to...

ThereItIsJake said...

Interesting take and agree the Steelers have handled this perfectly PR-wise. But I actually think they would deal him if they could get a top pick this year and a first rounder next year.

evan said...

Good post. I agree on the Rooneys, what a stand-up franchise. Not many left. And the NFL approach is a remarkable contrast to MLB and NBA of late.

Bruinsinruins said...

I agree with 98 percent of this post and believe that the Rooney's have handled this very well. But a few asterisks ...

1) first of all, other than a PR plus, the Steelers didn't receive ANY compensation for Holmes so that doesn't move my needle. A fifth is tantamount to a release.

2) I am in total agreement that the leak is a good move but what happens if the other side gets leaked at some point? And what happens if its leaked that the Rams were willing to pay 101 cents for BR and the Steelers had their bluff called? I, for one, don't think there is any chance the Rams would trade Bradford for BR but what if someone in that front office gets in Adam Schecter's ear? It seems unlikely, as the Rams don't want Bradford to arrive as a "second choice" but what if the leak doesn't come from the Rams ...what if its just some league source out to cause some commotion? Then you have the Rooney's sitting at the table with a big pot and a pair of 8s.

Anonymous said...

I like your insight. For the first time in my 50 plus year life, I am embarressed to be part of Steeler Nation. Thankfully the Rooneys are at the helm. Let's hope it all blows over fast!

Anonymous said...

Steeler brass seem to be doing a good job and I think making it clear to BR that one more screw-up and he is gone. He should be gone already but great athletes always get at least one more chance than most normal people - but that is not new news.

Anonymous said...

excellent blog... my only question on this whole situation with BR is what if he really did nothing wrong? What if this girl was all over him, slept with him in the bathroom and then b/c her friends made her feel like sht She went to the cops (with her friends bringing her to them). It is not that far fetched.. She did not want him prosecuted after the fact and would not testify.
obviously Ben will not be clubbing any more but I don't like the idea of Guilty till proven innocent. They are giving waaay too much power to GODdell.