Many of you reading this article may be too young to remember the brilliance of Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on the old “Carol Burnett Show”. Conway would routinely make Korman break character and struggle to maintain his composure by doing something during the sketches that was so over-the-top that Korman would lose control. In fact, on a recent episode of Conan O’Brien Tim Conway recounted the time he made Korman wet himself from laughing so hard in this bit:
I was reminded of this program because one of their other bits involved a speechwriter who had to figure out how to put a positive spin on bad news when his candidate was about to deliver a stump speech to his constituents. The topic at hand was runaway inflation and they struggled for a bit with how to make this negative into a positive. Finally you see the candidate practicing his finely crafted line, “I promise you in the coming year you will see more money pass through your hands than ever before!”
My career has taken some odd twists and turns, but in college I thought I wanted to work in public relations and I enrolled for an undergraduate course at NYU entitled “Business Communications: How To Write a Bad News Letter”. It was truly one of the finest classes I’d ever taken. In it we were presented with all kinds of disastrous scenarios and challenged as aspiring PR professionals how we would handle them. Some of our case studies at the time included the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez and the tainted Tylenol capsule problem that faced Johnson & Johnson.
This trip down memory lane resulted from the recent announcement by the Mets trumpeting the fact that their ticket sales are up almost 20% over the same period of time last year. That’s great news, right?
Well, when you peel back the layers of this onion it’s enough to make you cry. First of all, the Mets started selling tickets a full three months earlier than they did for the 2014 season. Consequently if their sales are up just 20%, that’s pretty pathetic considering the head start of a full business quarter for this season over last season. They’re comparing apples and oranges.
Second, why announce these non-verifiable numbers at all. Towards what end would it benefit them? Obviously they’re taking their hits on the back pages and the blogs for the usual litany of sins including their hot stove inertia, the ongoing niggardly approach to spending, their refusal to dip their toe into the international markets of Cuba and Asia, and the plans to apparently mount a 9-man pitching rotation against the rest of the league instead of trading away some of the excess. There’s also the move-him-or-lose-him Daniel Murphy scenario, the contract renewal of the rather unimpressive manager and the sacrificing of a precious draft pick on a 36 year old DH who would be uninsurable if not for the Obamacare provision about pre-existing conditions. So you see, this team is rather starved for some positive news on the back pages.
Still, they are quite often their own worst enemy. With a three day span the Washington Nationals fortified what was already baseball’s best pitching staff by bestowing the largest free agent contract on a pitcher in the history of the game, the Mets announced a bigger scoreboard then said they were too poor to bid on Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada. See? They do it to themselves.
However, there’s a more sinister motivation lurking inside this particular shallot. Remember Jeff Wilpon’s alleged wrongful termination of Leigh Castergnine, Senior VP of Ticket Sales & Services? Her side of the story is that it was retribution for him not approving of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. His side was that it was for incompetence (though selling tickets to the mess he was putting on the field would be challenging for anyone). Now the Mets are getting their PR machine working overtime to spread the news about the great ticket sale increase. There couldn’t be any reason to try to build a case for when Jeff goes to court, right? Stay tuned. He gets deposed on February 23rd.
This dull period before the Superbowl and before Spring Training is tedious for sports fans and no one wants to read any more Dillon Gee, shortstop or even #DeflateGate stories. Consequently editors are starved to fill their column inches with something and several passed along this tidbit without thinking it through.
Furthermore, there’s another shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moment related to this PR-generated story. Harken back to Sandy Alderson’s tone-deaf proclamation about this time last year in which he said that the Mets would spend more when the fans started showing up at the turnstiles. Hmmn…doesn’t an increase of 20% in ticket sales mean increased revenue? It couldn’t be that the numbers are doctored a bit for other reasons, could it? I mean, it was just a year prior when Fred Wilpon in response to questions about financial constraints said, “It’s all in the rearview mirror. I think we would anticipate being big investors [next offseason] if that were appropriate, That depends on what the market is.”
Really? Payroll went down each of the past several years. This year it’s up due to some arbitration-eligible players getting increases (and two to three of them are likely on their way out the door which would result in yet another year of payroll reduction.)
Is it any wonder no one takes what the Mets say at face value?