When Boston radio station WEEI broke the news that Red Sox play-by-play man Don Orsillo would not be retained by NESN after the 2015 season’s end, it set off a crisis for Red Sox management, which owns 80 percent of the channel. How did they handle the issue?
When the news leaked, the Red Sox stayed silent. Were they as caught off guard by the story as everyone else? If so, that’s a case of poor planning on their part. They are no strangers to information getting out and should have anticipated the leak.
If their silence was not a result of surprise, perhaps it was their intention not to acknowledge the news. This, though, is just as bad. Taking the “no comment” approach allows others to control the story and for nearly a week, that story was how much fans loved Don Orsillo and how puzzling the move was. Chad Finn, who covers sports media for The Boston Globe, wrote that NESN owes fans an explanation, for example.
After forgoing commenting on the story for days, Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner decided to speak to the Boston Herald on the decision to replace Orsillo with Dave O’Brien (current Red Sox radio and ESPN broadcaster).
“I think when the opportunity to bring Dave aboard came to us, after a lot of thought we decided, you know what, he’s one of the premier broadcasters in the country and we thought he’d be a great addition to the team.”
The organization’s decision to wait to speak out was not a wise one. An explanation was simply too little, too late. The Don Orsillo story has been second only to Deflategate in the Boston sports news cycle since it broke and a petition to keep Orsillo at NESN had more than 50,000 signatures at last check. By holding off on addressing the story, NESN looks like the bad guy. Never one to mince words, Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy called the move “insulting to everyone who cares about this team.” The news cycle continues, as NESN moved a pre-game live shot to avoid fans with signs supporting Orsillo from appearing on its broadcast.
Not every decision an organization will make is a popular one. The Red Sox may not have known the impact parting ways with Orsillo would have, but they should have. An important part of crisis planning is anticipating fallout and responding quickly. It looks like the Red Sox failed to do either and with the on-field product struggling, they’ll likely be dealing with the fallout until Spring Training (or another Patriots Super Bowl run).