A Canadian Football League club announced this week that their organized team activity would be closed to the public which in is direct conflict with the perceived policy of openness with the fan base and media that the league office covets. I applaud this club for conducting themselves in this way and at the same time I’m disappointed in the league for not reprimanding the club for operating in a manner that violates the league’s intentions.
At some point very soon, the CFL and their member organizations are going to have to develop a written standard for the conduct and inter-relations between the fan base, media, the coaching staff and players. When the current television contract expires with the CFL and TSN in 2013, look for Rogers SportNet, Global TV and CBC all to look for a slice of the pie that could produce a contract for the televised rights with a dollar figure never presented to a non-member of the four major leagues. With that level of unprecedented commitment the television media will expect full access and the radio and written press will presume equal accessibility.
Parameters must be put in place to ensure a workplace for the team that is conducive to the type of teaching and learning environment the coaching staff demands. Coaching is nothing more than teaching with a heightened level of enthusiasm and when you mix in the adrenalin and testosterone that accompanies professional sport, an atmosphere is created that has to be kept from the public as it is a world that is in direct conflict with socialites norms.
The individualized clubs have to control the message through a league directive. Structure comes from the Head Coach and the Public Relations Director. The following is the policy that we attempted to employ that comes from research conducted with several National Football League team’s media relations departments. It was thoroughly rejected by the local media and without a strong, established public relations director it was never implemented:
All requests will be made through our media relations department. No calls are permitted directly to the players or the assistant coaches without clearance through the media relations department.
The Head Coach is the primary spokesman for the team. Media will have access to the coaching staff but will have guidelines as to what subjects they are allowed to address. Other front office personnel (with the exception of the President/CEO) should not be interviewed without approval from the media relations department. The team physicians and trainers will only speak when a need arises to clarify an injury. For routine injury updates, either the PR Director or the Head Coach will provide the necessary information.
The Head Coach will be available on selected days during training camp and on the day after the game alternating every other day preceding the next contest including the day before presser, post-game throughout the regular season and the play-offs. The Head Coach will be available during mini-camps, drafts, free agent signings and other off-season events as needed.
The coordinators will hold press briefings once a week during the season to accommodate the numerous requests they will receive. The Defensive Coordinator will be available on Day 3, Special Teams Coordinator on Day 2, and the Offensive Coordinator on Day 1.*
The players and coaches will be made available for network TV production meetings and other league-mandated interview opportunities.
Practices at training camp will be open to the media. Once the regular season begins, media will only be allowed to cover the first 15 minutes (individual period) of practice and then will be escorted from the practice area by a media relations representative.
The team will strictly abide by other CFL directives such as injury report update and open locker room for player interviews.
The Head Coach will meet daily with the PR Director to be kept aware of topical issues.
Assistant Coaches and the Media
Media access to the assistant will be limited and monitored. An assistant coach can not be in a position to unnecessarily promote a player that may hinder the club’s negotiating position. I recall an assistant in Philadelphia saying a particular player was a “virtual starter”, which the player’s agent used in contract negotiations. I prefer the “He will be a good player, not there yet” approach, which doesn’t provide leverage in contract talks.
* the day after the game is not numbered as is the players day off and then we begin to count down to game day. Therefore, if we play on Sunday, the players will come in on Monday to check injuries, run/lift, and watch tape. Tuesday would be the players day off and a big work day for the coaches. Wednesday is Day 3, Thursday is Day 2, Friday is Day 1, and Saturday is Day 0.
The schedule obviously is adjusted on shorter weeks and varying days of play.
When we took over the team, the majority of the established players were in a relationship with local media members with exchanged contact information. We immediately ended that practice and with the influx of calls coming to the Head Coach after 9:00 at night, a policy was developed that the Head Coach would be available in the off-season from 1-3:00 each day otherwise accessibility is denied.
An experienced Public Relations Director would have been a vital asset to the entire organization but since all assets were presumably frozen and in reserve transferable to an assumed future private owner, we were forced to work with two interns and the direct result was the biggest mistake as managerial endorsed.
With the outstanding growth the CFL is experiencing in terms of viewership and an inter-active fan base, the league and each club will realize that controlling the message and providing limits to the media is the only viable path to defer distractions that ultimately affect the product on the field.
Game Day is for the fans and they are entitled to the best product available. For that to happen, the team needs a level of insulation to prepare in a way to give the fan the utmost for their entertainment dollar.