A column by Chris Jenkins today (November 30) in the Union-Tribune should be a case study at Harvard Business School. It's a story quoting Jeff Marston, a former public relations man for the San Diego Chargers.
Marston relates how he tried to convince Dean Spanos, head of the Chargers, that the Spanos family, if it wanted a stadium in San Diego, had to let the community know of the good deeds that it does: the team had to build community goodwill. "Dean sat there and smiled, almost laughed, then he fired me," lamented Marston.
Marston deserved to be fired. He did not understand that the Chargers did not want a stadium in San Diego.
In 1995, the team signed a contract with San Diego that, as Bruce Henderson said at the time, "was a roadmap out of town." It was clear back then that the Chargers wanted to go to Los Angeles, and that contract was the perfect route. As Henderson says, the Chargers "needed to convince the National Football League that they could leave San Diego without creating political and and public relations problems."
The team preferred L.A. but didn't want to alienate San Diegans. The team made several laughable attempts to get the public to believe it was searching for a San Diego home. The mainstream media assisted by telling the public that the team was shelling out big bucks in this effort. Ha ha ha.
The 1995 contract "created the opportunity for the team to terminate the contract" with the city, says Henderson. Indeed, the contract had incentives for the Chargers to leave, but few listened to Henderson at the time.
Since 1995, the team has wanted to go first to L.A., but to keep San Diego in its pocket. It is completely understandable that Dean Spanos would hire Mark Fabiani as the front man. Fabiani knows how to play such games.
Right now, there is a chance that the Chargers will not get to L.A., at least yet. The team may have to try and rebuild relations with the public — a very difficult task, because Fabiani has done his job alienating the public so well.
If L.A. is out of the picture for the next couple of years, Spanos will have to fire Fabiani, who knew from the beginning that he would have to fall on his sword if L.A. was unattainable, and no doubt worked that possibility into his extremely remunerative contract.
Whoever replaces Fabiani will have to understand that corporations communicate with winks and nods — yes means no and no means yes. If you don't understand management's objective, you do not deserve to be a spokesperson.