It’s a good thing to see that both Canadiens’ team President Geoff Molson and General Manager Marc Bergevin have recently made themselves more available to both fans and the media including going online and replying to some fan questions.
Any opening in the area of communications is a welcomed event given how tense relations have been as of late.
At the same time, few fans or media have been satisfied by Molson and Bergevin’s oftentimes vague responses to the hard questions that they have posed. At best, this entire exercise seems like a textbook PR safety valve maneuver to vent out some steam. Again, though, any communication is still better than hiding in their foxholes and letting tensions mount.
It is also quite understandable why some things just should be kept quiet. It would be foolish for the Canadiens to show their hands on matters such as trades or fully disclose information on injuries or personal issues involving their players.
Likewise, most reasonable people can understand why it would be impossible if fans were given direct access to either Geoff Molson or Marc Bergevin. Based on the number of supporters of this team, the two would be inundated with thousands of messages each day so direct communication is not possible.
Having said all of this, there still is a huge chasm separating the goings on of the Habs’ brass and the media and fans. In today’s electronic age, where supporters of this team literally may find fresh new articles or tweets/social media posts every five minutes, the expectations for improved communications have never been higher.
People want/expect more access inside the palace gates. At the very least, they want to know what exactly are Marc Bergevin’s immediate, midrange, and long-term plans and status updates with accountable actions.
This is a results-oriented business. The same expectations that management puts on players must be put on those in administration. Platitudes and vague statements serve nothing but to infuriate and frustrate the fan base.
Show Us The Plan
Right now, it appears as if there is no clear plan other than for the Habs to just keep drafting and hope for the best. Does Geoff Molson seriously believe that by providing vague messaging that we fans and media will just gobble this up? Does this approach actually make the slightest difference in preserving his season ticket sales? Not likely. All that it serves to do is aggravate the media and fan base.
Sam Pollock Was Right and Wrong
I’m not advocating that the inmates should run the asylum here. Sam Pollock, the greatest General Manager ever would say that we fans and media can’t just sit back and trust Marc Bergevin to turn this ship around. Our job is to cheer or report on this team. Let the experts run the show.
Pollock once said,
“There could only be one boss, one person in charge of where the team and the organization were going to go. Responding to the media, or playing to the media, or listening to the fans is the quickest way to start losing. The fans are great, but the thing they respect most is a winner.
Don’t get me wrong, we were very conscious of our fans. But we ran the team. The thing that the fans know the least is managing a sports franchise. They have their favourites and strong emotional attachments with them. A sports administrator who wants to be successful can never think that way.”
Was Pollock right? Yes. However, in today’s electronic age, some adjustments to this philosophy have to be made. The business that he managed was not built on TV revenues, merchandising and 24-7 web/social media exposure – all of which is dependent upon the trust of the media and fans.
In Sam Pollock’s day, the Habs were worth a million or so dollars. Today, due to the above factors, they are now valued at a billion dollars plus. Totally discounting the very people whom this enterprise’s valuation is built on is, therefore, a bad idea.
But what do the fans and media know? A lot more than old-school owners and general managers give them credit for.
For instance, the majority of Hab fans and media – English ones at least (I do not speak French) were opposed to the hiring of Michel Therrien. They hated the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber deal not only because they liked watching Subban perform but because of the age difference between the two. Most would have grudgingly accepted a trade for youth and draft picks along the lines that the Edmonton Oilers offered. Considering where Montreal now is, such a move would likely have started to pay huge dividends today.
The majority of the team’s supporters and media questioned the Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin trade. The same goes with the two draft picks that Marc Bergevin gave up for Andrew Shaw.
At the same time, the majority of Canadiens fans and media liked the hiring of Marc Bergevin. However, so too did Geoff Molson and his expert advisor Serge Savard. The majority of fans and media, including Serge Savard, now want Bergevin out.
I challenge some professor in a university communications department to have a graduate student do a content analysis of comments sections found in the Montreal Gazette or any of the major Canadiens’ websites, or through social media postings to determine whether or not fans more often than not, get it right on major decisions. I would bet the farm on them being on the right side of things the majority of the time.
Tap Into The Wisdom of The Media And Fans?
If I’m right, then perhaps the Habs might consider the idea of tapping into the potential collective wisdom of their fan base and media observers. That is, what if Montreal’s communications department regularly scoured the media/internet and provided detailed feedback as to how things are perceived outside of the Canadiens’ foxhole?
Yes, some fans and blog posters can and do say stupid things – but to discount all of their advice is a tad bit on the arrogant side is it not? Do Marc Bergevin and his staff know all the answers? There is nothing outside of their bunker worth listening to?
I know that this sounds radical but great sports organizations are always ahead of the innovation curve. Sports used to be a game of inches. Now it is millimetres. Championships are built on the tiniest of edges. From a management and ownership perspective, fan and media input may provide a tiny additional edge that could improve the Canadiens’ performance both on and off the ice. At the very least, the concept is worth exploring.
It never ceases to amaze me how knowledgeable and creative some fans are on various website comments sections. Some posts are often written by highly educated professionals and just plain hockey savvy individuals who happen to have a passion for the Montreal Canadiens. In the old days, these people would have been the “bird dogs” who recommended potential talent to the team’s scouts.
What if the Habs specifically assigned staff to collect the ideas coming from both media and fans who would then pass them on to a seasoned hockey person who then, after assessing the best ones, would then deliver them to both Molson and Bergevin? Would it hurt to hear new ideas and/or critiques?
The worst case scenario would be to reject them. No problem. The best case might provide the Canadiens with an added edge. Such an action would also be a smart PR maneuver by indicating to the fans and media that this team does actually listen to their ideas and insights.
The world has changed. Sam Pollock was right and wrong about the fan base and media. What worked in the past does not always work in the present. Being insular, dismissive, and using a vague communication style just does not cut it anymore.
There does not need to be a war between ownership/management and their fans and media. Our ultimate goals are the same. We all want to see the Montreal Canadiens once again become a premier hockey franchise. Improved communication is just one more edge to meet this mutual objective.
Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin, are you listening?