Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Rapids PR Problem

I've had this post in mind for a while now and it doesn't cast certain parts of the Rapids organization in the best light. This isn't to say that the Rapids Front Office isn't doing a good job most of the time, and I've had great interactions when I've dealt with them. I do want to point out where the organization needs to improve though, and I ask that you read it all and keep that point in mind.

Long-time Rapids fans know that the team, either under AEG or KSE, has never been the most forthcoming with information. We almost always find out about personnel moves from outside sources before the first rumors even come out of the Front Office. Just this year we've seen reports about Steve Guppy, Scott Palguta, and Julian Baudet's moves to Colorado from sources outside of Colorado. There's a difference between being quiet about things and publishing incorrect or incomplete information though. The Rapids have long been guilty on both counts and I really expect more at this point.

This really came to a head for me this summer when I've seen numerous mistakes being made in information distributed by the Rapids. I'm a Software Quality Assurance Engineer so I spend all day looking for mistakes in my company's software, which probably makes this stuff stand out to me more than the average person. The kind of errors I'm finding though are ones that leap off the page if you follow the Rapids and I would expect more from a professional sports organization. In the last month alone I've seen:
  • The Dallas head coach listed as the Fire head coach in a post-game quote sheet distributed by the Rapids Media Department posted on
  • The Match-Up page on the Rapids website has listed the probable starters for the last few games with only 10 starters and no goalkeeper
  • The Rapids tweeted last week that Omar Cummings was joining Jamaica for a World Cup Qualifier, even though Jamaica was eliminated from Qualifying last year (Jamaica played a friendly against Ecuador at Giants Stadium)
  • The in-stadium and on-air graphic for Marcelo Balboa's radio wasn't updated with the new day and time until a couple weeks after the show shifted time slots, even though Balboa' was doing an audio promo over the top of it discussing the new time
When I found these I made some comments on BigSoccer about how the Rapids media department was doing a lousy job. I got a couple of emails from the Media Relations Department correcting me on who's responsibility it was and also questioning why I had it out for the Media Department. First of all I want to apologize for blaming the Media Relations Department for any errors that weren't their fault. I was told that the mistake in the quote sheet was due to the webmasters at MLSnet and the Twitter feed isn't under the control of the Media Department. I am sincerely sorry if I blamed them for something that wasn't their fault. I know I hate it when I get blamed at my job for something that wasn't my fault and its not fair for me to do the same to them.

This is the first major problem I see with the Rapids Front Office. Why isn't all of that under control of the Media Relations Department? I'm looking at the list of staff on the Rapids website and the Media Relations Department is the logical group to handle all of the above issues, with the possible exception of the From the Pitch ad. I suppose Marketing or Community Relations could be responsible for some of them but to me if you're announcing a player's International status or a probable lineup, that's Media. As we've seen from my experience, and backed up by other people's comments on BigSoccer, people are assuming that's the Media Relations Department. If they're going to take the blame for it, let them run it so they can make the mistakes or avoid them on their own and not take the blame for another department.

The second problem is a little more personal. I don't have it out for the Rapids Media Department, or anyone at the Rapids. What I'm seeing though is a long history of questionable material being distributed by the Rapids, and the logical department to handle that is the Media Relations Department. My one-on-one interactions with that group have been great since I started this blog. They've answered questions for me that didn't have to, put me on the Press Release mailing list, and tried to work with me. However since I made the first comment on BigSoccer (about the Quote Sheet screwup) I got a email questioning that relationship and suddenly I stopped getting emailed the Press Releases. I did make a follow-up post saying that it wasn't the Rapids Media Relations Department's fault (as was only fair since I screwed that up). Then when I pointed out the error in the Twitter feed I got another email questioning the relationship and asking if I had it out for the Media Relations Department. They also pointed out that the Twitter feed wasn't their responsibility.

I'm sure some readers are thinking I'm being a bit hard on the Rapids, and to be fair I probably am. In some ways the Rapids brought this on themselves though with years of questionable media choices. The fans have nicknamed the Match-Up page the Ministry Of Truth for its long history of not being anywhere near accurate, in the past its listed players in the starting lineup that were suspended, injured, or on international duty. For a long time a couple of years ago the webpage link in the Rapidfire email linked to and not, two different websites. The less said about the re-naming debacle before the '07 season the better. With a track record like that is it any wonder that fans are fed up with the way the Rapids release information? Now the personnel has changed and the Media Relations Department isn't responsible for all of these mistakes but they are saddled with the existing reputation. Because of that, to quote Top Gun, they "need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy".

I realize that I've been hammering the Media Relations Department on BigSoccer this summer. Maybe that's a bit unfair, but at the same time its a message board. There are plenty of things said on BigSoccer that aren't serious but just fans blowing off steam about a player, coach, or organization. That why I try, not always successfully, to keep the posts here at a higher level. I see BigSoccer as an extension of the pre and post-game tailgates where we're all standing around jawing about the Rapids. I don't expect the Rapids organization to listen to all our conversations at the tailgate and possibly be offended by them and I see BigSoccer the same way. I appreciate the Rapids taking the time to see what fans are talking about, but they have to have a thicker skin when dealing with what's said there.

In the end what I'd like to see is a Rapids organization that releases information that's complete and correct 99% of the time. Everyone makes mistakes, god knows I make enough of them, but the Rapids have dug themselves a hole over the last 13+ years and until they can get out of it their going to be judged more harshly by the fans. They will have to show they can get the facts right before the fans are going to cut them the same amount of slack they allow other organizations. That's probably unfair to the Rapids, but its the way things are.


Bonji said...

As another blogger who has been critical of the Rapids Front Office I can back up the claim that certain members of the staff will take punitive action in response to critical thought. I penned a criticism of the marketing department before the season using Seattle as a counterpoint to the Rapids. Without actually addressing me personally, the marketing department asked fellow Class VI members why I was being critical of them and questioning my level of dedication as a Rapids fan. Really? Because I'd take my own personal time to give a critical assessment of marketing efforts because I don't like the Rapids. Really?

My own view is this; people who work in sporting organizations in Denver understand that the city is a sports city and they have a position other people, especially team fans, envy. This gives them a feeling of self importance. It seems that self importance makes them unable to take criticism.

The results of poor marketing are evident every time the Rapids report mediocre attendance. While I'm sure there are other factors, I am also sure a poor market effort that relies on on "tried and true" tactics with little innovation are also to blame. I don't believe the Rapids understand their market and who they should be marketing to, but they don't seem to have figured that out.

But I digress. Jason is right, the Rapids use punitive measures towards critical thought, and it is tiresome. stop blaming the fans for your poor attendance. It doesn't seem some members of the FO have heard, the customer is always right. Learn that media (including bloggers because that is the new paradigm you live in) don't have to be on your tip all the time. Sometimes a view from the outside can be beneficial.

george tanner said...

if the rapids' media releases are correct 99 percent of the time, i don't see what the problem is.

if the rapids are taking punitive actions against people who criticize them, that's a problem.

rather than raking the media relations department over the coals when you notice a mistake, give them a call. or send them an e-mail. they'll probably appreciate your assistance in trying to get something right, rather than finger pointing and one-upmanship.

i noticed that the colorado force repeatedly announced the incorrect opponent that the rapids would be facing on the night of their doubleheader with the ny/nj sky blue at dick's. i spoke to the owner, and she told me to tell the folks at the p.a. to change it to the correct team. we all understood it was a simple mistake.

and when i misspelled two of the force players' names wrong at, the Force sent me an e-mail and politely told me the correct spelling. i was VERY appreciative, and i've made certain not to make the same mistakes again. it was stupid on my part, and i was happy for the help.

however, if the rapids are taking measures to silence those who criticize them, i'd like to know about it. that would be a good story. if you followed up on that and documented actual cases of something that petty, that would be a story.

the rapids making mistakes on press releases is not news.

scaryice said...

This is sad. Rather than correct their mistakes, they lash out at the people who point them out. The Rapids should hire you, you'd obviously do a better job than the people they have now.