This week ended with perhaps one of the most interesting sports radio stories in recent memory as the Detroit Lions continued their off-the-field changes by announcing they will be leaving CBS Radio and 97-1 “The Ticket” for Cumulus’ Newstalk 760 WJR after the season. A veritable ‘he said, she said’ scenario ensued bringing to the forefront issues of censorship, media relations protocol and the power, money and control of professional sports teams in general. Who was right and who was wrong? I’d rather examine a couple of ‘what ifs’ and ‘lessons learned.’
‘What if,’ let’s assume for the sake of examination, both the Lions and CBS are telling it like it is. ‘What if,’ as Ticket Afternoon star Mike Valenti asserts, the Lions sought to censor what he said during his show, going so far as to call him while on-the-air? I know that when I was an on-air talent back in the day, if I was in the studio and behind the microphone, I took direction from one person and one person only: my program director. After the show was another matter and a more appropriate time for a more in-depth conversation with listeners regarding what I might have said. ‘If’ the Lions couldn’t reach Valenti outside of his show, trying to send him a message during it might not have been inappropriate. In the world of media relations, we always recommend going to the host or journalist first to discuss concerns. If that fails, going to their superiors is the next resort.
On the other hand, ‘what if’ the Lions did indeed threaten to leave CBS unless Valenti was let go, as Valenti charges. Many years ago, another PR firm in town requested an editorial board meeting with one of Detroit’s major print dailies to discuss a client’s concern about negative coverage, a not uncommon and often recommended practice. However, rather than talk out the situation and seek a resolution based on dialogue and mutual respect, the PR firm relayed the message that unless coverage improved in tone, their client would be pulling its advertising from the paper – entirely wrong and unethical. The PR professional was quickly told to do something unnatural to himself and that incident, when recounted, still entails steam coming out of the ears of the editors and journalists in attendance.
So, who really knows exactly what happened behind closed doors? CBS and Valenti say they won’t be bought nor censored. Good for them. The Lions, on the other hand, are saying publicly that the new deal with WJR is all about business and a return to roots. Good for them. Because where any business relationship is involved, it should not be only about the money but also respect and a proper fit culturally. In other words, not just dollars and cents but also what makes sense for all involved.