Sunday, February 08, 2009

Consequences of the Steroid Era

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the U of Minnesota Marching Band I proudly played in for 4 years finally gets its day in the spotlight...and the USC band takes a back seat.

Unless you've been under a rock, you know by now that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids a few years ago, according to a report from SI.com. How unfortunate that another of baseball's supposed greats cheated - and countless thousands of kids are crying because their role model couldn't distinguish right from wrong. It makes me absolutely sick.

I think it's about time to start really holding the game's leadership accountable for the Steroid Era, namely commissioner Bud Selig. Sure, people have shown displeasure with his reign, but I don't think he receives the wrath he deserves and has earned. It's any top executive's job to ensure that the product his/her organization provides value for the money consumers spend on it - and does so in a legal, ethical manner. This is even more the case where the product - and the teams and players - are so public. Sure, ticket sales have never been higher, although the recession could change that. But ask anyone 30-50 years from now what they'll remember most about the game from the past decade, and I'm sure their answers will almost universally center on one theme: steroids and cheaters in the game.

And now, with my marketing/PR hat on, the steroid scandal is an absolute branding disaster for the game. Instead of being known as the national pastime, as it has been for generations, baseball is now inherently associated with steroids and cheating. This alone is serious enough, with plenty of implications on the future of the game. But the kicker is that Selig and others in baseball leadership don't seem to be doing much about it. They aren't publicly bashing the cheaters and defending the integrity of the game. They also aren't reaching out any more than normal to fans (namely parents of young kids playing the game) to tout the game's greatness - and to cultivate the next generation of baseball fans, who will be the ones buying the tickets and merchandise a couple of decades from now. To me, these are serious mistakes by the Selig Administration, and they will leave an ugly, lasting stain on the game.

What could they do to improve the situation? Well, for starters, resign and let a new set of leaders reform the game. But since that likely won't happen, I think Selig should come out strong, with his gloves off, and publicly expose any/all cheating in the game and shame/punish the guilty players. Say that there's no room in today's game for cheaters. Establish zero-tolerance policies going forward that strictly police players and ensure the integrity of the game. Convince the players' union that these measures are absolutely necessary and vital to ensure that the game and league still exist a few decades from now. Invest more in existing and new programs to promote the game and teach younger generations to appreciate it. Acknowledge the negative, and reflect upon it, but also highlight the positive and work doggedly to set a new course. And then don't look back.

It's an exercise in good crisis communications. And this is definitely a time of crisis...the future of the game, or at least the version of the game that we all love and grew up with, is at stake.

I'm out like Alex Rodriguez from future consideration for the Hall of Fame.

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