So, ESPN has decided not to comment on indefinitely suspending college football writer Bruce Feldman.
Bad move, ESPN.
A common misconception that still surprises me that people buy into is that if you ignore a PR crisis, it will go away. Twitter alone kills that theory, yet major companies, such as ESPN, continue to live by it. It’s honestly shocking.
When the story broke last night about Feldman, his name immediately began trending on Twitter. By this morning, #freebruce was trending. And contrary to what some may believe, this isn’t the doing of just a bunch of sports reporters nationally. This is the response of readers, fans and the people that pay ESPN for things such as Insider and their magazine. This response stems from those who watch and trust ESPN, but are now questioning their ability to handle a problem. It’s difficult to build a strong, trustworthy brand, but it’s easy to kill one. ESPN is on its’ way to the latter.
Do I believe this will affect ESPN greatly in the end? It probably won’t. People will continue to watch their programming. People will even continue to subscribe to their magazine (all 10 of us). So maybe ESPN feels they don’t need to respond because they’re big enough to not have to. Maybe they really do believe if they say nothing, it will eventually just go away.
And maybe it will. But if I were ESPN, I wouldn’t bank on it. The second this all became an ordeal, I would have released a simple statement. It wouldn’t have needed to be anything major, just something to say, “We released Bruce for these reasons and believed it was in the best interest of the company.” Send it to the media, call it a day. Heck, maybe even put a person in charge of just answering questions that are called in. It didn’t need to be big, and ESPN had the control to make it what they wanted. However, as time progresses, the story will just get bigger and their response will appear much less genuine. ESPN, the “worldwide leader in sports,” needs to remember the viewers and readers that made them what they are. It’s more than just the right thing to do, it’s the wisest business strategy for a brand I’d assume would like to continue evolving.
So in the end, why should they care? It’s as simple as this: why shouldn’t they?