The Philadelphia Eagles announced the signing of Michael Vick to a two-year deal last Thursday night, sending shock waves around the sports world. While it would take me way too long to try to roundup all the Vick coverage, I do want to address some PR-related articles and comment on the signing. Please feel free to chip in your two cents in the comment section, I’d love to hear what you are thinking on this situation.
PR for Vick
SPRB had previously linked to a blog post at Shutdown Corner that talked about what Vick needed to do upon leaving prison to get his career back in order. Gable PR also offered up some suggestions for Vick to help rehab his image.
The process began when Tony Dungy spoke with Vick while he was still in prison. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell learned of that conversation and asked Dungy to formally take Vick under his wing and help guide him as he returned to the NFL and life after prison. He has also been speaking with Boys & Girls Clubs about dog fighting and the importance of loving your pets. Vick agreed to do an interview with James Brown for 60 Minutes, which many deemed a success for both the athlete and the program.
The next step was to sign with an NFL team, which he did late last week. A press conference was held to address the signing with Vick, Dungy, and head coach Andy Reid speaking with reporters. The Phanatic Magazine has a transcript up of the remarks that were said.
[Sidebar: According to ESPN.com, NHLer Patrick Kane watched the proceedings and took some mental notes. Kane had a run-in with the law after allegedly punching a cab driver over 20 cents early in the morning on August 9 after a night out with his cousin. He spoke to reporters before the start of USA Hockey's Olympic orientation camp in Illinois on Monday morning.]
As one would expect, there was a large variance in reactions to the signing ranging from angry animal activists to fans (and animal lovers) wanting to see Vick get a second chance. To win over fans and the city of Philadelphia, Vick will need to show that he truly is remorseful and immediately get involved with the community. The Humane Society wants to see Vick talk to inner city youth about the consequences of dog fighting. While he won’t be the starting QB unless there is an injury, Vick will get some snaps to prove himself on the field and playing well/winning always helps improve fans’ opinions.
He admitted in his interview with 60 Minutes that he was lazy in Atlanta before the dog fighting charges arose and he plans to correct that with a strong work ethic this season. QB Donovan McNabb talked to reporters on Monday about the work ethic that he has seen from Vick thus far and his expectations of Vick this season. Tony Dungy spoke with ESPN about why he thinks Vick will be able to deliver both on and off the field.
PR for the Eagles
The Philadelphia organization is known for its strong leadership and character so one reporter posed a question asking how signing Vick meshed with the team’s overall image. Reid’s response was as follows:
“I expect the public to have questions initially, which is obviously taking place, but at that same time I trust that we do the right things here, that we have done our homework and that Michael himself has his life going in a positive direction. I think with that the majority of the public wants Michael to do well and that’s us as human beings. We give people an opportunity, as long as they’ve taken the right steps they are given an opportunity and again that’s what makes this country such a great thing and the National Football League such a great thing.”
I thought one of the smartest PR moves for the Eagles was having owner Jeff Lurie hold a press conference to speak with reporters last Friday. His honest remarks demonstrated the struggle he faced while trying to decide whether or not to approve this signing. Lurie thoroughly explained to us his thought process, detailing the opposing views he held. His explanation showed fans that this was not an easily made decision, but something that was seriously evaluated by the organization. Lurie realizes what is at stake — his organization’s image — and told reporters, “He’s going to have to be an extremely proactive player off-the-field or this is going to be a terrible decision.”
The National Football Post discussed the value of having an owner like Lurie, who is so involved with the local community and strives to protect the Eagles brand, in dealing with the public relations battle. As you can see on the organization’s website, the Eagles and its players are heavily involved in the community. We know that Vick will reach out to the local animal shelter(s) and speak to young kids in the Philadelphia area, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team itself get involved in this area like selling calendars featuring photos of players with their pets and give the proceeds to the local shelter.
The Eagles had to be prepared to deal with negative reactions from fans, animal activists and humane society organizations around the country, and sponsors. It won’t be an easy fix, but something that they will have to work with over the entire season. The organization first sent out a letter to their suiteholders and premium ticketholders, acknowledging that some of them may not be pleased with the signing and inviting any questions that the fans may have.
We won’t know how this signing impacts the Eagles’ ticket sales, particularly season ticketholders, and corporate sales for some time, but corporate communications will certainly play a role in retaining clients and fans. The website SackVick.net has posted a list of the Eagles’ sponsors as well as contact information for their decision-makers, encouraging opposition to the signing to contact these individuals.
The Eagles management and ownership carefully evaluated the situation before deciding to sign Vick, including conversations with the local animal shelter. This area will likely be the most difficult for the Eagles’ PR and marketing departments, but it’s important to be honest and actively work towards building a positive relationship for both parties.
What do you think? What’s the biggest issue that their PR staff will have to face this season?