MANIPULATING THE MASSES

By:  Holly Horning

While Al, Brad and the players are pre-occupied with Spring Training, there is another group within the organization that is working just as hard. Hidden from the fans, it’s their job to create the excitement, generate the buzz and reassure the fans if need be.

Why? Because this is the year’s busiest season for selling tickets. Attendance comprises 40% of a team’s revenue on average. And given that the Tigers have the 4th largest payroll (and almost #3) in MLB, they need to roll out every method imaginable to get fans to sign on and fork over their hard-earned cash.

The people responsible for this are members of ticket sales, public and media relations, as well as the marketing department. It is an “all hands on deck” situation. They are fanning the media flames with the focus on new players, the high-profile free agents and the expectation that the Tigers will return to contender status.

But just as important is the need to control the public perception of the team and alleviate any concerns the fans may have. Concerns that may make fans hesitate in making that financial commitment.

So far this season, they’ve had to address, control and spin:

– the health of players (esp. Miggy and VMart)
– Brad Ausmus’ managerial capabilities
– the “hole” in left field pre-Upton
– the improvement in the bullpen
– ageing stars
– 2015’s player squabbles

As soon as the last out is made in the World Series, their work begins. First, it’s the trades that are played up followed by redemption pieces on the players who incurred the wrath of fans from the previous season. Following them are inspiring stories on the new players and the younger ones showing promise.

But now that spring training is underway, the media spinners have a new role – reacting to the questions and concerns that crop up in these early days. And how do they know what to address? Any story that could potentially worry the fans is a top priority. But they also read the social media fan forums to get the pulse of the people.

Response time is crucial which is why you’ll see stories of reassurance within 24 hours after the initial story that casts doubt appears. Like any organization, those in charge of shaping public perception have their tried-and-true media contacts. Calls are made, “talking points” are shared and the message is then generated through the designated publications.

It’s not hard to ascertain which stories are next to appear in the news. Just look at the articles that express any concern. Let’s take a look at just a small sampling of the spin we’ve seen so far this spring:

– With Cameron Maybin’s injury, Anthony Gose’s skills are played up.

– Analysts reveal that Gose’s defensive metrics are not good. Gose and Ausmus respond that these stats are a “scam.”

– Alex Wilson is shut down due to shoulder fatigue similar to what he had at the end of last season. The Tigers respond that while it’s in the same area, it’s “different” and not related to overusing him in 2015.

– The Adam LaRoche controversy about bringing his son to work inspires articles about Victor Martinez and Victor Jose to show that there are no such issues in the Tigers’ clubhouse.

– Multiple telecasts address the Tigers’ last place finish in 2015 and identify Brad Ausmus as the manager sitting in this year’s hottest seat. Jim Leyland does an interview about how Brad has the skills to be a great manager.

– KRod’s inability to obtain a work visa and report late to camp generates another story about his history of not pitching in games until late in spring training.

– The failure to sign JD Martinez to a long-term contract inspires interviews with JD to reassure fans that this is not unusual and that there are no hard feelings towards the Tigers.

– Fan concern over the signing of Mike Pelfrey are met with articles detailing his “solid spring.”

– Jose Iglesias offers a confessional about his selfish playing habits of 2015. His reality check and changed attitude are further verified by several teammates and Omar Vizquel.

Let’s hope that the 2016 season proves to be a quiet season for those in charge of spinning perception.

8 thoughts on “MANIPULATING THE MASSES

  1. Great perspective on the connection with the PR dept., current/potential issues and the media. What frustrates me most is the local writers who suck up to the team and take press releases and pass their “articles” off as journalism. They are too afraid of losing the “perks”. Thanks to Holly & Kurt, TT is the only place to get interesting & stimulating viewpoints!

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  2. The next one is about VMart’s health. When he suffered a mild hamstring strain, they said it was nothing serious and he could be in the lineup this weekend. Now it’s “doesn’t sound like he will be playing soon” and “the possibility looms that he might not be available” for Opening Day. Is that because many concerns have been written and talked about VM playing 1B and moving MC to 3B?

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    • Frankie, you’re right about VMart’s health being in the center of the hailstorm. But writers never question continued issues with team injury announcements that are much more serious than initially reported. It would be interesting to see a correlation of past injuries with respect to initial reported diagnosis/expected return to actual injury/final return.

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  3. Along those lines; why aren’t the reporters covering the new TIGERS WAY w/ respect to training, conditioning and injury prevention? Now we read that Norris has injured his back while weightlifting. Come on (sic: local writers)! Get some balls and try to do what TT is doing!

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    • Hi, Ray – Appreciate your faith in our abiliities! As for the Tigers’ Way, according to Al Avila, it is an internal document and not available to those outside the organization. Thanks for continuing these discussions! – Holly

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  4. Again, I’m on Ausmus’ side and I truly hope he can manage a winner here this season and beyond. He’s experienced now. Today, for managers, it’s about high IQ, baseball intelligence and relating to today’s player as opposed to riding buses, eating greasy burgers and toiling in the Minors for 10-15 years with the hope of getting a chance to simply coach at the MLB level.

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  5. Holly – your observations/examples illustrate just how compliant/complicit the Tiger beat writers are in promoting the company line. As a fan and follower it’s both disappointing and disturbing because you can’t put much stock in anything these people write.

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