How the Boston Red Sox Avoided Repetitive Failure

Does the issue reveal repetitive failure?

This question is one of six Jackson Spalding asks clients to determine whether an issue is a reputational challenge or crisis. Repetitive failure could mean your brand has responded to several different issues within a short time frame or has dealt with the exact same issue over and over. I thought about repetitive failure this week while watching all the news coverage of the Boston Red Sox this week.

Crisis or Challenge: Behind in the count

On Monday, Boston played the first of four consecutive home games against the Baltimore Orioles. After Monday night’s game, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones told reporters he experienced racial intolerant behavior including repeated taunts and slurs from Boston fans during the game. Jones, an African-American, also told reporters this was not the first time he and other black professional baseball players have experienced this from Boston fans. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia echoed Jones comments. For one audience, African-American major leaguers, this was repetitive failure. From an ESPN report: “According to Jones, this wasn’t the first time he has been subjected to such treatment at Fenway. This time, however, Jones said he felt “compelled to speak out.”

Remember I mentioned six questions? Let’s apply the other five to determine whether this is a reputational challenge or crisis for the Boston Red Sox.

Q: Does the issue involve a loss in moral authority within the C-suite that will damage the overall credibility of the company internally and externally?

A: The Red Sox’s moral authority very much came into question. People wanted to know, “What’s up with your team’s fans?” “How can this be an issue that your brand has never handled?”

Q: Does the issue involve multiple stakeholders?

A: Adam Jones, the Boston Red Sox, Red Sox fans, Major League Baseball and Boston’s Mayor to name a few.

Q: Does the issue have the potential to go viral?

A: After Monday night, Adam Jones was a #trending topic on Facebook.

Q: Does the issue have national news relevance?

A: Jones’ comments Monday night were quoted in multiple national stories in sports and non-sports news outlets. As of Thursday, the Red Sox were still a top sports story on Google News.

Q: Does the issue foster emotional repercussions inside and outside the business?

A: Yes. The Red Sox statement answers this: “…and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few.”

If your brand answers “yes” to most of these six questions, you are dealing with a crisis. When in a crisis, we recommend living by the three S’s: speed of response, substance of message, and strength of spokesperson. To use a baseball phrase, the Red Sox were behind in the count Monday night. But, in short order, the brand started to make contact.

The Three S’s: Knock it out the park

Speed of response was apparent because at 6:33 a.m. Tuesday, the Red Sox issued a statement. There was substance of message because the Red Sox apologized sincerely and gave action steps. Strength of spokesperson was also visible because all statements and interviews came from Red Sox President Sam Kennedy.

On Wednesday, Boston fans gave Jones a standing ovation. Also on Wednesday, another report about a Boston fan using a racial slur surfaced. After it was confirmed and reported, the Red Sox ejected the fan and banned him for life from the ballpark. Quick, strong statements and actions all intended to avoid repetitive failure.

Be proactive: Practice your swing

The Adam Jones-Red Sox story is a cautionary tale for brands. When the world hears something negative about your brand, along will come heavy scrutiny and the expectation that your brand will implement change quickly. Are you ready to handle the issue as well as the Red Sox? Only with practice and planning comes the ability to effectively respond with speed, to craft a substantive message and to become a strong spokesperson.