While most pro-sports franchises shy away from distraction and controversy, the New York Yankees seem to welcome it. Fresh off the inspiring final lap for pin-striped superman Derek Jeter, another Bronx Bomber is in the spotlight. After serving a one-year suspension for getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs — and then trying to cover it up — A-Rod is back in a Yankees uniform.
And, for Alex Rodriguez, that also means being back in the NYC tabloids and gossip sheets from coast to coast. Forget the lead story on “SportsCenter,” A-Rod is good for top cut in just about any general market program. Particularly after admitting he did, in fact, use steroids … to none other than the DEA. This admission carried with it exactly the sort of “non-baseball” personal subject matter that most sports fans claim to hate … but just can’t seem to turn away from.
So, is A-Rod just another professional athlete car crash with rubberneckers in Yankees caps stuck staring? Well, no. First, Rodriguez has a fat contract he’s due. That alone separates him from other train-wreck athletes. Further, while the MLB may still frown on it, fans are generally more forgiving of the sorts of things A-Rod was mixed up in. Sure, they don’t want to “know” their favorite player is juicing, but since Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds — regardless of the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of those claims — most assume it’s a strong possibility.
Not that this assumption and acceptance are keeping the Yankees PR machine from trying to distance the team from the player. Some are calling for the team to “dump him” and avoid anything that might tarnish the Yankees legacy. But that’s mostly just talk. The bean counters understand they need to keep A-Rod in the lineup. Likely everyone in the Yankee’s organization grasps that simple fiduciary fact.
But this doesn’t change the PR problem New York faces. No matter how forgiving and understanding some fans may be, there will always be others who will fall back on the “tarnish” criticism, particularly if Rodriguez fails to produce. If that happens, especially if another up-and-coming Yankee challenges him for a starting spot, the challenge could bloom into an outright debacle. If that happens, the Yankees better be ready to turn two: manage the money and quell the PR crisis.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, and has been named the PR Executive of the year two years in a row.