BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 10:51 AM

LA Dodgers’ Opening-Day Unforced PR Error

Opening Day of the baseball season is supposed to be a time of celebration, a rite of spring celebrating the good times of summer to follow.

But the home opener for the Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a tragic start, as a fan of the rival San Francisco Giants was attacked and severely injured in a Dodgers Stadium parking lot. The fan, Bryan Stow, is in a medically induced coma and may have suffered permanent brain damage.

Immediately, many fans complained to radio talk shows, Internet message boards, newspaper columnists and the like that the heinous assault was not an isolated incident, and that over time, Dodgers Stadium has become an increasingly unsafe place. Whether or not such concerns were accurate is irrelevant – what mattered was that the paying customers were up in arms and demanded satisfaction.

So what did Dodgers owner Frank McCourt do? Well, nothing much…at least at first. McCourt first made a tone-deaf statement saying he was “satisfied” with the team’s level of security. Beyond that, McCourt and the team said nothing of note.

Later, the Dodgers did make significant moves to improve stadium safety. They hired former L.A.P.D. Chief William Bratton to oversee security, brought in dozens of uniformed police officers to patrol the stadium grounds and cancelled upcoming half-price alcoholic beverage promotions.

But these steps, commendable as they may be, came a week or more after the initial incident. And they came only after an avalanche of negative feedback from fans, who said the team wasn’t serious enough about safety. To date, Dodgers home attendance is down more than 13 percent compared to the same point in 2010.

McCourt has plenty of other problems on his plate. Financial woes and an ugly, public divorce have led to Major League Baseball assuming control of the team.

However, the team’s sluggish response to the initial outrage points out a truism of crisis communications: Responding promptly is often more important than getting the message exactly spot-on.

- Bruce Buchanan
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