By:  Holly Horning

As an image and branding consultant, my job is to uncover, polish and highlight the desirable traits and skills of my clients. My work often finds me working with a related profession – public relations. After decades of working with PR people, I pretty much have their number. I know their methods, strategies, timing, tricks and patterns as they seek the ultimate goal of creating and maintaining good and favorable impressions of their clients among the masses. And no surprise, last week was a very busy one for the Tigers’ PR department.

And I saw it coming.

Let’s set the stage, shall we?

The end of May brought a brutal road trip rife with sloppy play and missed opportunities. Many within the media now unafraid to question the viability of the team and the longevity of their manager.

So on their first day back in Detroit, Al Avila and Brad Ausmus went out to dinner together and “shared a bottle of wine.” Just two buddies bonding over food and having a good time. And a genius move by the PR department to kill the buzz starting to build about Brad’s future.

The info, date, place and time were provided. You were meant to read it and to draw the conclusions laid out for you. And it was all planned.

Afterall, if it was just a regular dinner, you wouldn’t know about it. And the dinner would have been at someone’s home or in a private dining room. But Al and Ausmus were on display just as much as the fresh seafood was at Streetside Seafood.

Less than 24 hour later, Al Avila made himself available to any and all media outlets to sing the praises of Brad and the “good job” he’s done with managing the team. All the local papers. MLB on tv and also Oh, and MLB radio. One very busy man.

A thorough job to reinforce the impression that the Tigers are a stable organization with no forthcoming changes. And still contenders. Textbook image making in order to soothe the masses – but also the players.

And the purpose of this exercise was not just to bury the bad road trip but to help manage what will be building for the rest of this summer. Situations that will increasingly make many nervous and wondering about the Tigers’ path for the rest of 2017 and beyond.

The passing of Mr. I now means the routine and expectations of how the organization will move can no longer be assumed to remain the same. There is a new owner with a significantly different perspective and manner of running a business. Estate taxes, no matter how well planned, will complicate decision-making and the future. And other Ilitch projects are bigger, newer, shinier and more profitable than the Tigers.

Changes are a’coming. We just don’t know what and how soon.

Ironically, the potential organizational changes are not the main reason the buffing of Brad is taking place. Currently, the Tigers are more concerned with maintaining a stable, calm and even-keeled organization. Oh, and yes, the fan base.

You see, the bottom line is that Al Avila can praise anyone to the moon and beyond but the fact is that Ausmus’s contract was not extended after last year. Only his option year was picked up. One.single.year. And Brad has only 3.5 months left on his contract.

In baseball, former and current execs warn about the lame duck manager effect. They caution about allowing a manager to stay beyond the All-Star break without a new contract in hand. History has shown that players tend to start withdrawing from organized team participation when they believe the manager will be leaving. They start to disregard him, play more for themselves and try a little less hard.

And that is something the Tigers are trying to avoid have happen to them. Avila’s mass media message is an attempt to thwart the upcoming dilemma that will probably happen somewhere around July 12th when current managers are generally extended – and Brad may not be.

It is the Tigers’ intent to send a message that it’s business as usual. They want the players to remain as focused as possible on the games and not on the potential organizational changes. They want as many fans for as long as possible to continue to believe that the team has a credible shot at remaining in contender status long into the summer – if not October.

They need to control the emotional and mental levels of those on the field and in the stands. They need the talent to perform (for winning and also for trade value) and for the fannies to continue to fill the seats for as long as possible.

There are new and significant issues the Tigers will be facing towards the end of this year. It’s still unclear whether Ausmus will stay or go as there are strategies that support both sides. And a blog will delve into these in the near future.

But in the meantime, keep in mind that talk is cheap. It’s the actions – or lack thereof – that signal the true intent.

16 thoughts on “CUE THE ORCHESTRA

  1. Anyone familiar with the history of Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner will recall that a manager is never on thinner ice than when he’s being praised by his boss. You can ask John Comey too.


  2. It appears we have a manager who is unable to squeeze any emotion out of the team. Sometimes they look like the Walking Dead. I can’t see any formula using the current players and coaches that will all of a sudden start putting fans in the stands. Being a life-long fan I hope it happens, but…


    • It has been over one week a go, but I checked the MLB attendance figures. The Tigers’ were down only around 1300 per home game. This amounted to about one good Sunday’s attendance. (30K+/-)


  3. Exactly, Holly, look how the story was leaked that the Tigers were now in sale mode. Where did that originate? The Tigers organization seems devoid of real leadership at present, and this can permeate every crevice of their operation, right down to the playing field.


  4. Is it even possible for this team to become more detached, etc? A decade and a half of poor play, management, in-game decisions ain’t going anywhere fast. Saupold pitching to Moreland with the game tied and on the line just the latest in poor thinking. I will be 65 next year, will the Tigers even contend again before I am 70? Not likely.


  5. I’m amazed that the Tiger’s PR staff is able to offer Red Herrings to every media outlet, and by and large, they follow the smell but continue to write that everything is fine with the team. Unfortunately, it seems that every phase of the team is in disarray and in need of a complete retooling.


  6. If the owner does not try to legitimately improve this team, and it will take money, that tells me the team is for sale. If not the next off season, then in maybe 2019. The average Joe six pack fan not going to take his kids to the park for this team. I turned the game off yesterday in the 7th inning. Can’t bear to watch the train wreck. If Brad is retained for 2018, attendance will plummet.


  7. Cue the orchestra because the Fat Lady is about to sing! The competitive and contending era of Tigers baseball has now come to an end. Maybe the most star-studded and competitive era in franchise history resulted in none of us seeing our Tigers win a world title.


    • I would argue that “the most star-studded and competitive era in franchise history” was between 1934-1945. Four pennants, two Series rings, and four Hall-of-Famers (Gerhinger, Greenberg, Goslin, Cochrane). But your point is well taken.


  8. 63 years old – true tiger fan. But, after Leyland was extended after going 0-4 vs. Giants in series, I boycotted – no radio, no tv, not a single inning – the 2013 season. Glad I did – know how it ended / exactly how I envisioned. So, if BA is extended into 2018, I, again, will boycott the season.


  9. “It’s still unclear whether Ausmus will stay or go as there are strategies that support both sides” Sorry, Holly but other than the money they saved this year by keeping him, exactly what strategy supports keeping him? He has shown no improvement in game management, preparation, etc. JMO 🙂


    • Hi, Doug – We’re in agreement about performance, however, there are other matters which would support retaining him that have nothing to do with his performance and more about the priorities of others. In a near future blog, I’ll explain. Thanks for keeping the dialog going! – Holly


  10. Sure is puzzling that the Illitch organization is putting up with this nonsense with BOTH of their teams. Both GM’s and their minions need to be terminated, before more damage is done. How many of you trust Avila or Holland? As far as any sales, who knows, maybe the Tigers will be sold, but the pizza folks will retain the Wings , who carry their flag and who are their pride and joy.


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