Communication Lessons from a thwarted NBA bid

by Doug Self

I’ll refrain from beginning this post recapping how my NBA team, the Seattle Supersonics, were stolen relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. My keyboard can’t handle the frustration-fueled pummeling that typing this out would cause. In fact, I’ll refrain from discussing team stealing entirely because that is exactly what I had hoped to occur with a potential Sacramento Kings move to Seattle.

The Kings sale is what I’d like to address here, particularly the response from Chris Hansen and his group that had purchased the Kings with intent to move the team to Seattle. Hopes of this actually happening were dashed long before the NBA owners voted to deny the sale. No, hope sunk two weeks prior when the NBA’s Relocation Committee voted unanimously to recommend the Kings remain in Sacramento.

At a moment when Seattle fans and supporters felt like they were punched in the gut, given a ring only to be left at the altar, Hansen posted this response:

Chris Hansen, source: SonicsArena.com

To the Sonics Faithful:

While we are disappointed with the relocation committee’s recommendation, we just wanted to let you all know that we remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through. As you are all well aware, we have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise, have one of the best ownership groups ever assembled to purchase a professional sports team in the US, have clearly demonstrated that we have a much more solid Arena plan, have offered a much higher price than the yet to be finalized Sacramento Group, and have placed all of the funds to close the transaction into escrow. As such, we plan to unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governor’s Meeting in Mid-May.

When we started this process everyone thought it was impossible. While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal, I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up.

Impossible is nothing but a state of mind.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” ―Muhammad Ali

—Chris Hansen

From a public relations standpoint, the Hansen group responded perfectly, strengthening their base in the face of this devastating news. There are a few reasons it was effective:

Preparation
The response was posted within hours of the NBA’s decision going public. They likely had two responses prepared and could make final edits depending on the details of the decision.

Communicating Confidence
The first paragraph says three very important things. 1) We are aware of the situation and are not pleased; 2) We’ve done quality work that sets us up well to address this issue; 3) This isn’t over.

In times of crisis, your audience (customers, employees, fans, or otherwise) is looking for leadership and reassurance. Seattle supporters needed someone to tell us it would be okay, that we are going to get through this. Yes, we realized it was all but over, but felt a little better knowing it was only over for now.

Looking Ahead
While this event was not in our favor, we are not wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we’re actively addressing it and have reason to be positive about the eventual outcome.

The owners did vote to deny the move and Hansen’s response was much in line with the post above: gracious, calculated, and resolute. It also followed the measured and carefully crafted communication by Hansen and his team from the moment news broke that his group.

While this particular situation is by no means representative of an average corporate crisis situation, the lessons are the same. Be prepared. Remain calm. Stick to the plan.

Then, if you can, buy an expansion franchise.

About Chad Biggs

Chad Biggs feeds a lifelong obsession with storytelling by helping clients capture and meaningfully share their stories with the people that matter. As Red Sky’s Chief Content Officer, Chad’s work is driven by a deference to the written word and his innate ability to craft an acute, concise message for clients ranging from healthcare to technology to renewables.

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