Monday night I had the opportunity to attend the season opener of the Utah Flash, the NBA D-league affiliate of the Utah Jazz. I’m even a season ticket holder because a friend of mine interns with them and got me a good deal. Leading up to the game and culminating at halftime, the Flash ran a publicity stunt that was supposed to get Michael Jordan to Utah, but went horribly awry.
First, a little background. Back in September Michael Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Obviously he deserved it, but during his speech he got a little petty and called a lot of people out (watch it here) including Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz. Well, Bryon Russell wasn’t too happy and together with the owner of the Utah Flash, Brandt Anderson, they hatched a plan to have Bryon Russell play a game of 1-on-1 at halftime of the Utah Flash home opener. Anderson put up $100,000 for the winner’s charity and Bryon Russell went on ESPN to issue MJ the challenge.
Despite talking to Jordan’s agent and going public with the challenge, MJ never confirmed he would show. Basically he ignored the challenge all together. However, that didn’t stop the Flash from hiring a look-alike to be “sighted” in Utah on Monday afternoon with a corresponding report issued on the Daily Herald website. Of course this generated a lot of buzz and hype for the event so that almost 7500 people were in attendance. Halftime came, Bryon Russell came out and then…they marched out the look-alike to a parade of boos from the crowd. Fans even threw back free t-shirts when they realized they had been duped.
Where They Went Wrong
I’m sure there will be plenty of finger-pointing and blame to go around as evidenced by local news articles and the comments on Brandt’s Flash owner blog. However, I think the uproar stems mainly from one decision: hiring the look-alike.
I bought my season tickets weeks before the game knowing that Jordan “might” be at the season opener. I thought it would be a bonus, but knew I would enjoy the tickets regardless. I also liked the idea behind the challenge and thought it got the Flash some publicity because it was a novel idea. However, when the Flash hired a look-alike, put him in the community to “test the strength and effectiveness of viral media” and even paraded him onto the floor at halftime they crossed the line.
Before the look-alike the publicity was natural, arising from the curiosity of fans that something might happen. People could have blamed their friend when MJ didn’t show. However, once the Flash introduced the look-alike they took ownership of the publicity. They actively took steps to hype it up. They even brought the guy to the stadium and introduced him with Jordan-esque fanfare. Fair or not, the Flash then took ownership of the backlash of disappointed fans.
So what can you learn from this? To steal a little from Chris Brogan, it’s all about trust. A lot of fans trusted the Flash and when that trust was violated these same fans were pissed off. You don’t have to read too many blog comments to get that feeling. As for me, I’ll keep attending the games. Lost in the mess was a frantic come-from-behind victory in the final minutes. The Flash are 5-1 and lead their division. It could have been an awesome game for all parties involved.
What would you have done if you had been running the Flash’s marketing department?