Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Athlete-Media-Relations 2.0

Regardless of where you stand on Curt Schilling, he is a unique talent both on and off the field. While he rubs many the wrong way -- esp. The Boston Globe's curmudgeonly Dan Shaughnessy -- as a self-promoter, he is redefining the way athletes relate to the media and the fans.

We happen to think Schilling is terrific and we look forward to his weekly chats with Dennis and Callahan -- the morning drive guys on Boston's sports-radio-giant WEEI. He always sheds great light on the game, and provides terrific insight into how it's played at the highest level -- at least in his POV.

Schilling has long been an active participant on the Boston Dirt Dogs and Sons of Sam Horn bulletin boards. He's also known around these parts to sports radio listeners as "Curt in the Car." This spring Schilling launched his own blog, 38 Pitches. It must be a nightmare for team-management to have a guy as savvy, intelligent and opinionated as Schilling out and about, opining and talking about whatever he wants.
This is a perfect example of the issue of how brand owners are losing control of their brand. Ownership, understandably, wants to control, what their employees say, but they have to be even-handed and judicious in how hard, and when or if, they come down on a player such as Schilling. We think that ownership understands that they would surely lose in any war of words with Schilling. This new foray into the blogoshpere is certainly forcing them to walk a razor thin line.

For now, ownership of the Sox is showing forbearance and continuing to permit Schilling to be visible and opinionated. It will be interesting to see how long they permit this, especially as the season progresses and Schilling draws nearer to free agency. Like the Sox, Schilling also has a brand to maintain and he does so by being open and pushing his message across multiple channels. There have been athlete blogs in the past -- ESPN has contracted with marginal players to chronicle a season -- but this is about as high-a-profile a player as we know of to go the route of the personal blog.

We'd love to hear and see more players go this route as well. It will radically change the relationship between player and fans as well as player and major media outlets. Part of this, no doubt, lies at the root of the issues between Shaughnessy and Schilling. In Shaughnessy's world, the player is supposed to sit there, give good quotes to the grizzled, old-media pro and allow the latter to control the message. Alas, the days of the gate-keeping, myth-making, and mythical reporter as major arbiter of player access are numbered.

Welcome to Athlete-Media-Relations 2.0. People like Schilling are helping to change the field of play (so to speak). The ballpark scribes now need to compete with the athletes themselves for the scoop. As long as this foray into the brave-new-world of DIY news production, brand management and self promotion doesn't distract too much from on-field performance -- Schilling got lit up on Opening Day by Kansas City -- we are all for it and look forward to the evolution.

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