A day removed from the Trent Richardson trade and I still feel that it makes sense. I also still feel that the Browns have some serious PR and brand issues.
From what I could gather by reading my profanity laced twitter stream, Browns fans are angry a popular player was traded. But they’re even more upset they were lied to. They feel suckered. And really, who can blame them? The Browns have a long-suffering identity crisis – and the fans are the ones who are paying the most (literally and figuratively).
Yes, I know it’s sports. And I know you will rarely if ever get some straight talk from a sports organization as a whole. But you don’t have to go out of your way to lie about who you are. Matter of fact, Cleveland fans are great fans. I have a feeling if someone would just level with them you could say you’re turning the helmet pink and they’d still show up to tailgate, pink beer in hand.
But in the case of T-Rich, the organization put his picture on programs, tickets, promo items…they talked about building for the future and being in the best place to win. (Something they coincidentally talked about at their press conference announcing the Richardson trade.) And if it wasn’t bad enough that the organization sold the fans some magic beans, it then proceeded to show no concern or remorse. Would it kill them to do some type of jersey exchange? Actually acknowledge the fans anger and confusion?
So what would I do, you ask? I would recommend some PR 101, starting with:
- Knowing your audience. Browns fans consider themselves smart football folks. They understand the difference in schemes and why certain players are drafted. Give them an audience. Host a few moderated town hall meetings, inviting fans to offer up questions.
- Embracing relevant channels. The Browns could benefit from a tweet chat. Just like the above idea of a town hall, open it up to questions from the fans. Oh, and maybe acknowledge the trade on Facebook?
- Managing the message. Like I said, I don’t expect the Browns to all of a sudden say ‘uh, yea, we’re trying to tank’. But it would be refreshing to hear them acknowledge ‘an adjusted expectations’ and ‘there are other ways for the organization to win beyond the scoreboard’.
- Being transparent. Again, if there is a plan I don’t expect it to be shared, however, a high level overview of where the club hopes to get stronger, the type of players they’re looking for and what the team will be known for would go a long way.
- Making it right. Unfortunately any way to make it right on the field is still two years away (at least). However, that doesn’t mean the organization can’t consider some jersey exchanges (tie it to a special hat – something unique), fan appreciation days or re-thinking the stadium experience. I’m pretty sure people won’t be coming for the football so there better be an alternative.
These aren’t guaranteed fixes and there will still be a lot of work to do but imagine how much different Browns fans would feel if they were communicated to. Most teams prefer to have what happens on the field speak for them. I don’t think that’s the case here.