Banned For Life: Good PR for the NBA

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As much as I hate to give this racist any more attention than he’s already gotten this past week, Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers NBA team has become pretty hard to ignore. In real life, TV, and social media, his offensive comments are all that anyone is talking about. But my question as a PR practitioner, is: “Were they right to ban him?”

This article at PR News attempts to answer that question by deciding the important factors in the decision:

  1. Determine the severity of the sin. Considering that there are many African-American/black players in the NBA (including his own team!!), as well as fans of many races who support equality, it’s pretty bad.
  2. Determine the Investor Relations (IR) response. Some sponsors have already started abandoning the Clippers; they don’t want to be associated with his bad press. Understandable.
  3. Determine whether the CEO’s brand can be distanced from that of the company. If it weren’t for social media, and the fact that there are hyperlinks to damning articles all over the web, maybe. But in actuality, no.
  4. Determine how the sin relates to the company’s brand.
  5. Determine how the sin’s timing affects its impact.
  6. Determine the cost/benefit of sticking with an embattled CEO.
  7. Determine how much goodwill resides in the CEO’s trust bank. Honestly, I had no idea who Donald Sterling was until this story broke. I am not an avid NBA fan, but I feel like many others are in the same boat I am. His name is so tied up in this, that his racist behavior is all people know about him.

Given my understanding of the situation as a whole, I believe the NBA made the right choice in banning Sterling. It’s got nothing to do with free speech. He exercised his right to free speech…and millions of NBA fans exercised theirs by taking social media by storm and demanding action.

Had the NBA decided not to penalize Sterling, or had they waited any longer to make a decision, I think they damage might have been irreparable. With sponsors already pulling out, the potential for Clippers players to refuse to play, and the potential for other NBA team to refuse to play the Clippers, there could have been some serious financial harm to the organization.

At this point, my recommendation for Mr. Sterling would be to keep a low profile, not “fight back” with excuses and perceived whining, and certainly not make any more questionably offensive remarks.

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