Two Nations, Two Sports Messes and One BIG Need for Better Crisis Management

And now for something completely different….Sports and public relations.

Canada: HNIC’s theme departs and with it someone’s ability to manage crisis effectively

Up here in the not-so-frozen north, the whole mess is not so much with the NHL or hockey itself but with its mother network having first lost the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme and then whomever they asked to handle the ensuing PR having botched things so badly that even American comedians have picked up on the situation and have started making fun of it. (And, oddly enough, hockey isn’t quite so popular in the States, so if they’ve picked up on it there….oops.)

Colbert on HNIC

Stephen Colbert offered hilarious commentary on the whole HNIC situation last week. (Viacom, which appears to have a much less well-developed sense of humour, pulled it off YouTube. So this is a bit cumbersome, because this is copyrighted material and because of the aforementioned lack of a sense of humour, this has to be done in a round about way. You have to go to the Comedy Network’s site by following this link to the episode and fast forward to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in to find the bit. But it is worth it.)

It’s a bit that simultaneously manages to make fun of both cultures, which is particularly rib tickling for someone who has spent half her life on each side of the Am-Can divide.

And what the fact that Colbert commented on HNIC means in terms of PR

But the fact that this bit exists is a very bad sign for whomever has been trying to handle the PR for this situation. They not only dropped the ball, but it has rolled downhill and gathered snow and now has turned into an avalanche. How did that happen? Were they not warned? What was their strategy for handling this supposed to be?

America: Does NBA stand for Now BSing America?

Talk about a mess. On the other side of the border, the issue isn’t just about music. It’s about corruption and it has the potential to be as big a scandal as the 1919 Black Sox fixing of the World Series if the allegations imparted are proved to be true.

[Please note: my take on this is rudimentary- for a really good examination of the Donaghy/NBA situation, you should go read Ironic Teachings’s blog– he has a fabulous handle on this and is always a good read.]

The initial scandal

Tim Donaghy, a second generation basketball referee who officiated games for the NBA for about 13 years, resigned from the league when word came down that the FBI was investigating whether he bet on games that he had been officiating and whether his calls had affected those games’ point-spreads.

But he had a lot more to say.

As noted in the New York Post, Donaghy, who has also admitted to being a compulsive gambler, has claimed that executives in the NBA, seeking to increase playoffs-related revenue, sought to manipulate the games through the referees:

“Top NBA executives rigged playoff series to pack arenas and pump up TV ratings by ordering officials to shamelessly make calls that benefited favored teams, disgraced ex-ref Tim Donaghy charged in bombshell court papers today.”

The NBA’s response

The NBA has handled this by taking a position that can only be called “the best defense is a good offense.” But at least they are actually actively trying to counteract the allegations- not well mind you – but at least they are trying, as explained by ESPN’s website:

” ‘We welcome scrutiny here. This is something that should be scrutinized,’ said Stern, who called Donaghy a ‘singing, cooperating witness’ and repeatedly referred to the former referee as a felon as he spoke with reporters for more than eight minutes near the loading dock of the Staples Center as he arrived for Game 3 of the Finals.”

Did it work?

Has this been an effective way to handle things? Apparently not if you read a sampling of the American sports press. The best summation may have been offered by Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times when he stated

“If Stern can’t see what a mess he potentially has on his hands and how no one from inside the NBA should be part of any league influence-peddling investigation, then he has become blind to the real world. As the USA Today editorial summed up: ”The NBA has much more at stake than winning an argument with a felon, which, after all, should not be hard to do.”

No, it has its credibility at stake.”

How could the NBA have handled this better? Is a poor PR strategy better than no seeming PR strategy at all?

And how have the great and glorious pastimes of two nations come to this?


11 comments so far

  1. thatsroger on

    How funny, we both wrote about the HNIC theme today. I swear I had no idea you wrote about this before I posted mine. But we have two very different takes on the situation.

  2. abbymartin on

    That is funny. I am going to look at yours immediately!

  3. Ironic on

    Just come up with a new theme.
    Get Bryan Adams to sing…or use the Warren Zevon song about Hockey.
    SHeesh. It’s just a theme song. If you can’t deal with change, then you can’t adapt, and Mr. Darwin is waiting for you.

  4. abbymartin on

    But what do you replace an iconic song with? So many people have a nearly Pavlovian response to that song- it takes them back to their childhood or to when the first time their team won the Stanley Cup and so on. That’s what makes it hard.

    Still, with so many awful things happening on this planet, hard to believe all the attention this is getting.

    Play nice Ironic. Play nice. 😉

  5. Decayed Athlete on

    Why is it that people persist in believing that what they see on TV is “real”? Survivor episodes took place on islands that had resorts on the other end of them; sports are all “juiced”. Come on, people, if it’s on TV it isn’t amateur and it isn’t genuine. It’s an easy rule. Here’s another — if a professional athlete has all his own teeth, the sport is crooked.

  6. abbymartin on

    I *LOVE* it. Thank you for the laugh about the teeth.

    Since there have been television revenues to consider, the sport has probably been juiced. That’s my rule of thumb. Hell, Keith Olbermann used to have a catchphrase back on ESPN over a decade ago when someone hit a homerun he’d say “the ball is juiced.” He may have been kidding- only turns out, he wasn’t.


  7. Len on

    A number of us chose to write about this – how could we not? – and our viewpoints are completely different.

    I’m a lapsed hockey fan who knows he’ll live to see tomorrow – and next season – even though the theme will never herald the start of another HNIC broadcast.

    My issue is with the lack of tradition, or the compulsion to uphold same, for nearly everything in our lives. Is it really all about change for change’s sake? Or is it something more insidious: the pursuit of the dollar and its effect on every job worker left in its wake?

    I’d hate to have been the poor sucker left holding the bag for the CBC’s PR flame-out. But I’m not so eager to cast the blame his/her way: PR doesn’t issue the (body) cheque. PR doesn’t whistle the play dead. PR sends the back-up goalie into the game once it’s become a rout and suffers the chorus of boos from the people who pay their freight: the fans.

    And if the fans feel wronged then they should have a voice.

    I find Colbert petty and obvious at the best of times. I’m surprised he was paying attention. There must be Canadian writers on staff.

  8. abbymartin on


    Welcome aboard. Thank you for the comment.

    I don’t entirely blame PR, I know some fatcat executive screwed this up. BUT since PR is my field and one area of my interest, I am curious to examine how it was handled. And it wasn’t handled well. The HNIC situation has been discussed in the States in a variety of places- and hockey down there is on some high-numbered, out-of-the-way specialty cable channel. It’s just not that popular. So for this to become a story means that somebody didn’t go into effective crisis control. Sorry. They may be the back-up goalie, but that doesn’t mean they dont stop the shot that keeps the game from being 6-3 instead of 5-3.

    Also sorry that Colbert didn’t resonate for you. Maybe he does more for me as a border straddler. Or perhaps my taste is not as refined as yours? I’m probably neither as thoughtful nor as elegant. It’s my American side undoubtedly. 😉

  9. Ironic on

    It makes sense that Colbert commented on it. He’s a huge Hockey fan. He was even part of a PR situation (Colbert day).
    Look, the HNIC PR people are like Terrell Owens’ PR people or the current NY Mets PR people. They handled it badly.
    However, I have a question for Len. How does changing the the theme song of HNIC hurt workers? So this person doesn’t get royalties anymore…except for any rebroadcasts done on NHL TV.
    This is not that big of a deal. It’s not like they’re changing the Canadian flag. Sheesh.

  10. Mr. X on

    SPORTS! SPORTS! SPORTS! I needed to keep it simple as these other comments are too serious for me.

  11. abbymartin on

    Hi Mr X., welcome!

    Thanks for chiming in- glad you liked the content. We’ll try to keep the tone a little lighter for you in future. 🙂


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