Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

I will assume that most of you have seen this semi-new Disney movie, The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid. For those of you who have not, the Cliff's Notes version involves a former major-league baseball prospect who blew out his arm but eventually made the Major Leagues through a challenge from his high school baseball team. As shown by this move, many athletes have a hard time letting go of the game they love. Take for example Michael Jordan who retired twice before he finally decided he was over the hill (although he was still a good player at his time of retirement, but he was a shadow of its former self). More recently, look at the revolving door that Brett Favre has probably broken entering and exiting the press room after announcing his retirement and subsequent return to the NFL. However, many athletes do realize when enough is enough, and they want to move on with their lives. Some athletes are forced out of the league because nobody wants them (think of recently Nomar Garciaparra who just retired after several subpar seasons), and I admire those athletes who recognize that they need to find something else to do with their lives.

When these athletes don't realize that perhaps they better move on, I at least feel that it is no more than a publicity stunt. In the past two days, I have seen two stories that make wonderful business sense for the organization, but I wish that the players would realize what a move like this will probably do for their reputation. First, there is the return of Antoine Walker to professional basketball. You remember him right? Paul Pierce's trusty sidekick who would lead Boston to a championship? Yeah, none of that happened. Walker was shopped around for a while before being nailed with a DUI and put on trial for writing bad checks to casinos. Well, one team was willing to take a risk on Antoine, one team in Puerto Rico that is. While I like the business move by the team, I have to wonder what this will do to this already disgraced former star. He will be a star in Puerto Rico simply because he used to be a star in the NBA and that will sell tickets which is the ultimate goal of the basketball team. However, if I was Antoine, I would have moved on from this chapter of my life and instead focused on dealing with the $4,000,000 of debt I had accrued.

The next story I found highlighted the signing of Marion Jones in the WNBA. Jones won five Olympic medals in the 2000 Summer Games, but they were all stripped when she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. On top of this, she lied about this use and ended up with six months in jail. Now, she is 34 years old; this is normally beyond the prime of most athletes, and she is trying to pick up a sport that she hasn't played competitively since college. Just like anything in life, you might be good at something at one time, but without practice for approximately 10 years you'll probably get much worse. Again, this is a great publicity move because people buy tickets to see Jones try to make a comeback. However, I think that perhaps she should close the door on the athletic portion of her career and move onto a field where the stigma would not be attached to her.

In thinking about why businesses would want to bring stars with troubled pasts into their marketing fold, I believe that this quote sums it up much better than I could. “She’s [Jones] clearly a global figure, who people are interested in,” Orender said. “Having somebody like that associated with our league is positive.” This just reinforces the idea that no publicity is bad publicity.

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