As the “Deflate-Gate” saga rages on and nearly half of Americans think the Patriots are culpable of the wrongdoing, the bigger issue called into question is image and messaging. From a public relations standpoint, rather than a legal or moral one, the Patriots have bungled or fumbled this mess from the onset. After nearly a week of silence, both the team’s head coach Bill Belichek and quarterback Tom Brady took to the podium during separate press conferences with questionable, ill-handled statements and answers to reporters’ questions. While I agree that Deflate-Gate is a minor issue when juxtaposed with world issues like terrorism, hunger, etc., I wouldn’t make the statement, “This isn’t ISIS, no one is dying.”
It was quite apparent following the press conferences, the PR team quickly convened behind closed doors and hosted a “Round Two” media event where answers were much more polished and precise from Belichek. With any crisis communications issue, regardless of whether the organization believes it is small ball or a huge organization-changing incident, getting in front of the messaging and treating it seriously can mean the difference between the public quickly moving on to another story or the media dragging it out for days as is the case with this incident. Both Belichek and Brady’s flippant attitude and responses to the controversy called into question their truthfulness and unfortunately now the team’s pre-Superbowl preparation and pride have been forever altered.
Sadly for football lovers, 2014 ranks as one of the worst handled PR years for the NFL and many of the teams. Let’s hope they clean up their image in 2015.