TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — A Stand For The Brand Or The Need For Greed?

About 20 years ago, I was teaching a Television Editing class at the then Brown Institute. The focus of the class was to help students learn how to use video cameras, edit tape and put together short commercials or news stories. One of the challenges was to identify newsmakers and line them up for interviews. As the years progressed, our equipment got considerably better. But the access to sources seemed far more capricious.

For instance, students attempting to do stories on local sports teams or politicians were sometimes met with resistance, while others landed interviews readily. After awhile, we began to get the picture. It was a simple lesson in Supply and Demand.  When celebrities were popular or teams were on a roll, they had less time for aspiring journalists, even if they admired our attempts to educate them.  But give us a last-place team or a washed up celebrity now playing the casinos, and suddenly these same folks become far more accessible.

Fast forward to 2016 and three recent examples that appear to illustrate little change in this area.

I have been following with interest, the twists and turns of North Dakota State University’s policy changes regarding media access for its stellar football program. Winning games and championships has never been a problem for the Bison. And no one can dispute the program’s success has brought great honor and respect to the state. Don’t think I’m not envious when ESPN pays several visits to Fargo, while my alma mater, Minnesota, languishes in the Big Ten’s basement with regularity.

This is nothing new. While covering the Bison back in the ’80s for the KX Network, I, too, reaped the benefits. I fondly remember trips to Alabama to witness Division II title games and occasional opportunities to showcase my stories on CBS. In fact, when it comes to NDSU, one could argue that the program has almost never had a down time in nearly 40 years.

The stakes are higher now, and those annual trips for trophies have turned to Texas. There are new names among the media folk competing for air time and attention, but most of the outlets remain the same. Because I’ve long since been out of the loop on the politics of the Fargo sports scene, I’m certainly less informed, but hopefully more objective now, on the heroes and villains in this saga.

The way we communicate our stories has changed drastically over the last several decades. Newspapers and radio stations are fighting hard to stay relevant and keep their stories current. Television stations can still bring pictures. But when social media sites and blogs can do all of that and more, with amazing immediacy, all three of those sources are in trouble. Yet, the goal should remain the same: inform and enlighten the public with what they want and need to know.

It’s for this reason, that NDSU should welcome, not discourage, as much media attention as possible. Whether the idea to exclude outlets to “protect their brand” came from the athletic director, the president or someone else, it doesn’t matter.  It’s a bad idea.

NBC is paying megabucks to cover the 2016 Olympics and if enough people choose to watch it, advertisers and the network will reap the benefits. But even they know, that in today’s world, keeping people from learning the results is next to impossible. So instead of fighting the losing battle of exclusion, you’ll notice they now offer more opportunities to watch, not less. Secondary channels, streaming video. Lots of choices for a demographic used to those options.

It didn’t take NDSU administrators long to understand the error of their ways. Even for a program at the top of the football mountain, they should never forget the many folks who’ve helped them make that climb. But I’m convinced that it’s easier for a program like that to get greedy because they’ve seldom experienced failure.

Such is not the case these days for the Minnesota Twins. After two World Series titles a quarter century ago and another good run of relevancy after that, the last six years have not been kind. Bad trades, injuries and a stagnant minor league system have added up to fewer victories and anemic attendance.

Funny, though. As an old sportscaster still willing to watch bad baseball, this partial season ticket holder has noticed a considerable amount of attention coming my way of late.

In 2010, the Twins were on a roll.  A new stadium, a big contract for their All-Star catcher Joe Mauer and sellout crowds watching a divisional champion. At that time, I remember how thankful I was to land a couple of seats in the upper deck.

And my wife, Laurie, and I suddenly became very popular figures among family and friends. So what if we had to pay big bucks for a strip of tickets to that playoff series with the Yankees? Big deal, that they upped the ticket prices in 2011.  OK, maybe I was a little peeved that they sent out renewal notices only days after getting swept by the Bronx Bombers. But Target Field was the place to be.

These days, the Twins are calling me, not the opposite. Better ticket packages.  Lots of perks. All sorts of benefits. Why, in the last of couple years, I’ve been asked to meet Bert Blyleven for a “Chalk Talk” and presented the Twins’ lineup card to the umpires before a game with the Royals. I even got to hang out in the dugout with former manager Ron Gardenhire and the gang. Unfortunately, the word “former” applies to quite a few individuals associated with the club recently.

As much as I’ve appreciated these random acts of kindness, I’m much too jaded to believe they’d still be happening if the Twins were winning ballgames.  While I realize it’s always more difficult to accommodate everybody in good times, the Twins’ owners continue to be accused of greed now more than ever.  The conventional wisdom is that they wouldn’t be in last place if they’d spent money more frequently and more wisely in the past.  So maybe they can’t win.

The point is, my skepticism about the Twins’ sincerity was developed back when the brand was strong. Those nagging emails and letters threatening to pull our tickets if we didn’t renew, came at a time when the team could afford to be greedy.Now, they need me more than I need them.

Finally, there’s another local sports team that could learn from the Twins. But it’s doubtful it will. The Minnesota Vikings have a beautiful, new stadium. They are defending divisional champs. Tickets are hard to come by.

Sound familiar?

And just like the Twins of 2010, opportunities for greed and exclusion appear be available in abundant quantities.

“Build it and he will come,” is the famous line from the movie, “Field of Dreams.” The Vikings have built it and he and she promise to be coming by the tens of thousands to their billion dollar U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Despite a lengthy battle with taxpayers, the state-of-the-art facility was constructed to replace the aging Metrodome.

Supporters love its wider concourses, monstrous pivoting glass doors and splashy video screens. It will bring jobs, money and even a Super Bowl in 2018. Critics cite the price tag and the feeling of being held hostage by rich owners about to get richer, all for a league that’s had more than its share of problems off the field.

Already, the team has been criticized by season ticket holders for exorbitant seat license costs, in addition to already high ticket prices. Bird lovers worry that the 200,000 square feet of clear glass around the stadium will reflect surrounding trees and grass and result in thousands of deaths when the birds fly right into it. And now, there’s another issue giving the Vikings a bad name.

Earlier this month, the team announced plans to honor its past cheerleaders with a special on-field ceremony at their opening pre-season game. But since its database only included cheerleaders from 1984 to the present, a large group was excluded.

For many seasons, the St. Louis Park Parkettes’ high school girls often braved the frigid elements at Metropolitan Stadium to cheer in less showy uniforms. Over 300 of them were not invited. To make matters worse, those who were invited must pay a registration fee and buy a ticket to what amounts to a relatively meaningless exhibition game, in the first place. Greed, at its finest.

In fairness to all of these teams, the Bison, Twins and Vikings are able to “protect their brand” because we support them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  They’ve brought joy and pride to our communities, in varying degrees of frequency. But all three would be wise to remember the ebb and flow of Supply and Demand. The way you treat your customers in good times can have a dramatic effect on how they’ll treat you, when those lean times arrive.

One thought on “TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — A Stand For The Brand Or The Need For Greed?”

  • Jon Lamphier August 18, 2016 at 8:33 am

    The sad part of this ‘tale of team spirit’ is alot like a bad pizza…you rarely get a refund if it left a bad taste in your mouth. You find another place to eat. If you’re the only game in town, you’ll never get those customers (sports fans) back without alot of proof in the pudding!


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