Crisis with the Boston Red Sox Organization

Essay, 2013

24 Pages, Grade: A

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Section I. Introduction/Background Information

For over one hundred years, Baseball has been historically referred to as America’s past time. Before the recent technological advancements and extensive development of various new media devices in our current society, many individuals entertained themselves by playing the game of baseball. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, baseball flourished as a professional sport and grew to be a popular staple in American culture. Some individuals viewed the growing popularity surrounding the sport of baseball as an excellent business opportunity. With the rising demand for organized professional baseball teams, individuals ceased the opportunity to invest in the establishment of early teams and franchises. These franchises were excellent opportunities to generate large amounts of profit for those individuals who owned them.

Boston is a city in which individuals are passionate about sports regardless of the level whether it be at professional, college, or high school. However, one particular sports team is especially connected with the city on an emotional level. This team is the Boston Red Sox, and they represent the city of Boston at the professional level in the Major League Baseball. The Red Sox organization was founded in 1901 as one of the American League’s eight charter franchises. They have used Fenway Park as their home field since 1912, and the park has recently been designated as a national historic landmark. The Red Sox also have an extensive list of the notable players that have played on the team over the years. Players such as Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, and David Ortiz exemplify the rich tradition of baseball that has been an integral part of the culture of Boston.

To date, the Red Sox have won seven World Series Championships out of the eleven World Series matches in which they have played. They won five of these championships between 1903 and 1918, however they endured an eighty-four year period until they won their next World Series title in 2004. Throughout this eighty-four year drought without, Red Sox fans remained loyal (some with greater ease than others) and stood by the team that they grew to love. Some even claim that the roots of this drought could be traced back to the infamous sale of player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918. Widely referred to as ‘The Curse of the Great Bambino,’ this legendary notion helped to establish a rivalry between Boston and New York and their top tier baseball organizations. The historic rivalry that exists between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is something that has been enculturated across multiple generations. Young fans in these cities have been taught to be loyal and stand by one side at a very early point in life. These younger generations are the crucial component in keeping the rivalry alive and vibrant. The Red Sox Yankees rivalry has been sensationalized by media, and several films and television shows have incorporated it into plots and story lines.

The bottom line is that the Boston Red Sox are an extremely profitable organization in Major League Baseball, and have the potential to be even more profitable. The individuals who benefit most from high profitability are the owners of the organization. Hence as business owners, their top priority is centralized around maximizing profitability for the organization. Since the Red Sox organization was founded, there have been relatively few changes in ownership. From 1901 through 1933, there were seven different individuals who purchased and owned the team. However this changed In 1933 when Thomas Yawkey historically purchased the Red Sox. Tom was the team owner until he passed away in 1976 which left his wife Jean Yawkey with ownership of the team. When Jean passed away in 1992, control of the team passed on to the Yawkey Trust. However 70 years of Yawkey ownership ended in 2002 when the Red Sox were sold to New England Sports Ventures (now known as Fenway Sports Group), an organization led by John Henry and Tom Werner. Henry and Werner were millionaires who had the financial resources to invest into making the Red Sox an even more profitable organization. They hired Terry Francona to coach and manage the team on the bench, and Theo Epstein as the general manager to take care of managing roster transactions. They were rewarded within two years as they ended the eighty-four year drought by winning a World Series Championship in 2004 . The teams reputations was further strengthened with another World Series Championship victory in 2007.

Section II. Crisis within the Organization

Public Perception of the team was at an all time high, and it seemed like nothing could stand in the way of positive public perception and the Red Sox organization after 2007. However in the seasons following the 2007 World Series win, the organization experienced a fair amount of turbulent activity. In the 2008 season, there was a controversy with former 2004 World Series MVP Manny Ramirez that received significant attention from the media. Ramirez had allegedly assaulted the Red Sox traveling secretary who was an elderly gentleman. Ramirez was also involved in a physical altercation with teammate Kevin Youkilis. Cameras captured Manny throwing a punch at Youkilis in the locker room, and it became apparent that the situation needed to be addressed. Manny Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Red Sox attempted to move past the negative media attention. They managed to salvage a decent season, but they ultimately lost in the American League Championship Series in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

The 2009 Season was not much better as the Red Sox did manage to reach to the post season but were almost immediately eliminated in a three game sweep in the first round of the playoffs in the American League Division Series. The 2010 Season was memorable for the long list of injured players throughout the entire season. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox did not make it to the post season due to the injuries of star players including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis. These players may not have been able to finish the 2010 season, however were still guaranteed large financial compensation under the terms of their contracts. This placed a great deal of pressure on the organization and Theo Epstein to make moves in the off- season.

After the 2010 season was completely over, the Red Sox organization responded by signing several major contracts and continued spending massive amounts of money on new players. The Red Sox signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142-million contract, and Adrian Gonzalez to 7-year, $154-million dollar deal. Baseball critics thought the 2011 Red Sox team could be one of the best in the league and potentially win 100 games due to the off-season roster enhancements. However, this was not the case at all. In September of the 2011 season, the Red Sox were in play off contention and led the Wild Card Race by nine games at the beginning of the month. However, the unthinkable happened and they the Sox lost twenty out of twenty seven games that they played in September. They were knocked out of the Wild Card race by the Baltimore Orioles, and did not reach the post season and make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

This historic collapse significantly affected public perception of the Red Sox organization. The passionate sports fans of Boston became outraged at the failure of the 2011 Red Sox team. The organization had spent so much money in the off-season with hopes of making improvements from the 2008-2010 seasons. Not only did the team not make the playoffs, they shattered the odds projected at the beginning of September and lost 20 out of 27 games to ultimately be knocked out of the Wild Card spot. It was not just fans that were outraged by the situation, but various individuals of local and national media became outraged at the situation.

The Red Sox organization did not immediately make any type of statement in response to the collapse in September 2011. Terry Francona was formally fired two days after the season ended after a meeting with John Henry and Tom Werner. Two weeks later, General Manager Theo Epstein announced he would be leaving the Red Sox to work with the Chicago Cubs. In the midst of all of the activity, The Red Sox organization continued to remain relatively quiet regarding the entire situation throughout the month of October 2011. Boston news media began to obsess over the situation with the Red Sox and its coverage quickly became a top priority on the news agenda. As a result, several damaging stories began to emerge in the media.

Initially it seemed as if news media was simply looking for dramatic components to provide for some entertainment fare. However, the stories regarding what had been happening with the Red Sox behind closed doors were too significant to ignore. Some notable members of the Red Sox pitching staff were accused of inappropriate conduct, which included eating fried chicken, drinking beer, and playing videogames in the clubhouse during games when they weren’t scheduled to pitch. After leaving Boston, General Manager Theo Epstein claimed that on multiple occasions Red Sox ownership advocated for him to sign contracts with more marketable and ‘sexy’ players. Epstein disagreed with requests from ownership maintaining that in the baseball community, the looks of a player are a variable that should be irrelevant if that player can help a team win games. Other stories broke detailing circumstances surrounding a mandated entry to a treatment facility after Terry Francona was thought to be suffering from addiction to prescription pain medications. To make matters even worse, expensive new roster additions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, were reportedly top contributors to the sour atmosphere in the clubhouse among the players.

The important point is that in the aftermath of 2011 season, the Red Sox organization had projected decreased ticket sales and lower overall profitability. There seemed to be another harmful distraction that further preoccupied the Red Sox organization from resolving the crisis at the end of 2011. The Red Sox had been planning and preparing for a 2012 season full of celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. Due to the expected high profitability anticipated with the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, Red Sox ownership devoted more focus and resources to ensuring this celebration happened with minimal complications. The organization did not make the necessary changes for positive change to occur in 2012 and limited their chances at any redemption in the aftermath of such a negative 2011 season. The organization hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona as the bench manager and coach, which proved to be a another critical mistake. Valentine was a walking nightmare for the public relations department in the Red Sox organization, and repeatedly had outbursts and made threats during interviews with the media. He did not know how to appropriately conduct himself with the media, and in an organization that was already suffering from reputational threats, this mistake prevented the Red Sox from reaching any resolution in 2012.

Section III. Case Study Methodology

Throughout history, many different businesses and organizations have encountered a variety of crises. The manner in which these organizations choose to respond to various types of crises has set somewhat of a standard for how similar organizations should or should not act. The simple practice of reviewing different case studies of organizations in states of crisis could have been an especially useful tool for a deeper comprehension of crisis communication for the Red Sox organization. For the sake of this discussion, a crisis may be described as a specific, unexpected, and non-routine event or series of events that create high levels of uncertainty and threaten an organization’s high priority goals. The situation that the Red Sox organization was faced with in the aftermath of the 2011 season, undoubtedly falls under this category. This definition is particularly interesting because it takes into account the organization as well as its stakeholders. Initially, the Red Sox seemed to fail at appropriately prioritizing stakeholders.

Stakeholder theory highlights the many differences within an organization and primarily focuses not on profitability but rather on how the stakeholders may be affected by the actions of the organization. This is crucial because stakeholding groups may withhold resources, or limit the organization from entering new markets. Ideally, organizations should try to balance the needs of internal stakeholders with external ones in a time of crisis. In terms of the initial onset of crisis communication, Strategic Ambiguity allows for the organization to minimize the damage to its credibility while selectively providing its stakeholders with information. It is ethical when it provides unbiased information to its stakeholders and unethical when it seeks to use information to sway the actions of particular stakeholders. Thus three questions that create ambiguity in organizational communication concern the interpretation of of evidence, intentions behind the actions leading to the crisis, and ultimately the locus of responsibility for the crisis.

Case studies such as those concerning Jack in the Box and Malden Mills offer valuable insight for other organizations, such as the Red Sox, that may be forced to deal with crises. Both case studies embrace components of stakeholder theory, and prioritize some group of stakeholders. However, Jack in the Box used a much more ambiguous style of rhetoric in their crisis communication to protect the entire organization. Malden Mills CEO Aaron Fauerstein conversely was much more transparent and honest with the nature of the crisis for his stakeholders. These instances provide valuable evidence of practical nature of organizations developing strong organizational crisis communication skills. These case studies also illuminate the areas in which the Red Sox organization fell short in the constructs of stakeholder theory and their relative use of strategic ambiguity. By not issuing any type of statement addressing the negative situation, the Red Sox left the situation open to speculation. They would have benefited from being more strategic in their ability to recognize the extremely high degree of ambiguity, which resulted from the absence of a public statement. Red Sox ownership may have benefited by prioritizing their fans higher on the list of affected groups of stakeholders. Instead, they communicated in a way that did not consider what the fans felt and thought, and in a way that was more about the best decisions for the business.

Section IV. Audience Based Research

Audience centered research focuses less on the effectiveness of any given medium communicating crisis messages, and rather on how the individuals felt at an emotional level after the occurrence of a crisis. It is more how the individuals feel after they have seen and processed the information relayed through various mediums. The Lachlan, Spence, and Nelson research piece, concerning I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota, effectively uses an audience centered research methodology. In this study, one of the research questions explored the extent to which mediated information seeking was related to psychological distress after the bridge collapse. Results were statistically categorized according to the emotional reactions of high and low media users. A similar research study may have been valuable to the Red Sox organization and could have provided information to help design future response strategies.

One of the limitations with Audience centered research is that it is very incident specific. Being a relatively new technique for analyzing crisis response at the level of the individual, audience centered research serves to provide some type of real data sample for an analysis. Even if the data sample is not perfect and may even be potentially flawed, it still is a real data sample from the field, which is better than having no relevant sample at all. Critics may retort that without designated experimental controls, in terms of sampling and randomization, it is impossible to sufficiently check and verify the validity of the results. Information gathered in studies like this may make a significant difference when an organization is faced with a crisis and must decide the most appropriate action.

The concept of rumination provides another possible window for error in audience centered research. This describes people that are prone to processing traumatic things in a hyper attentive way, which may ultimately harm their mental health. This is in contrast to a standard individual who is able to absorb information, process it and then dismiss it. Boston Red Sox fans are a different breed of passionate people. After incidents such as the Bill Buckner ground ball in the 1986 World Series, and this historic collapse in 2011, there are some fans who are more emotionally attached to the team and they are more likely to experience distress following traumatic activity.

When faced with uncertainty, people tend to rationalize or make things up because having bad knowledge or baseless information is more comfortable to the human psyche than accepting the notion that one cannot offer any explanation. There is a difference between events like the I-35 Bridge Collapse and the organizational crisis of the Boston Red Sox. However, in the face of uncertainty, we simply want information to restore us to being at a level of comfortability. As the Red Sox continued to refrain from issuing a public statement, people were forming their own opinions and rationalizing things to explain what had happened. However there are a variety of external factors that may tend to influence the emotional response at the level of the individual.

Audience centered research is useful for the analysis of specific individual responses in some cases, and ultimately would very likely be effective in the context of the organizational crisis that occurred with the Boston Red Sox.

Section V. Multi-Stage Theories

With respect to the sections I-V, this section is somewhat of a shift in thinking as it is necessary to theoretically analyze the life cycle of a crisis and how it unfolds at multiple levels.

Although these multi-stage theories have heuristic value, they have been criticized for being overly prescriptive in nature, for their lack of predictive power, and whether they should be considered valid theories at all. Multi-stage theory models could be significantly useful in crisis communication and within the overall process of crisis management.

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Crisis with the Boston Red Sox Organization
University of Massachusetts Boston
CAPSTONE Seminar -- Communication Studies 480: Risk Communication
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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crisis, boston, organization
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Andrew Faller (Author), 2013, Crisis with the Boston Red Sox Organization, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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