Tonight, at Comerica Park in Detroit, instead of seeing Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, more than 40,000 baseball fans saw a display of Public Relations by Major League Baseball that can only be described, in baseball terms, as “bush league.”
I was among the fans that shared qualities no business should want its customers to have – confused, uninformed and frustrated. Just before 8pm, not long before the scheduled first pitch, the PA announcer read a message at it appeared on the scoreboard. The game was being delayed because of “inclement weather in the area.” At the ballpark, there was no rain, most fans were not wearing jackets and it felt like the proverbial “beautiful night for baseball.”
For the ensuing 80 minutes, fans wandered the stands and concourses in search of a working cell phone signal to check social media, to look at radar, to call home, to find any information about why there was a delay and when the game might be played. Mysteriously, it was a rain delay without a tarp on the field and without a drop of rain being felt.
At no time did Major League Baseball update the paying customers in the stadium or the national TV audience that could have numbered in the millions with any level of transparency. Comerica Park boasts one-of-a-kind internal communications assets, such as a $10 million video scoreboard, audio throughout the concourses (including in the restrooms) and video screens at every concession stand. Certainly, a spokesperson could have provided updates on the considerations being made about imminent weather, trying to get the entire game played at once and anything else that may have factored into the decision to issue and continue the delay. It could have been interview style with one of the idled announcers. On television, TBS ran Seinfeld reruns with no update from Major League Baseball. A similar plan for the TV audience could have been followed, along with a national radio audience on hundreds of ESPN Radio stations.
Imagine the frustration of being on a delayed flight with 100 passengers, where nobody on board seems to know what’s going on and then multiply that by about 4,000. What do you want in that situation? You want to be treated well as a customer and you want information shared as to what the problem is, what’s being done about it and when the next update is coming.
Game 4 was cancelled before any raindrops feel and is now scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Never mind those saved up, took off work and made other plans to be at a night game who now have to rearrange their lives or sell their tickets. Customers understand that businesses can’t control the weather. But businesses can control how they deal with the weather and how they communicate changes to customers. In this case, Major League Baseball chose silence. In PR, that is always the wrong choice.