Public relations, fan experience, and winning aren’t mutually exclusive for the Browns

Kevin Griffin (left) and Zak Gilbert (right) are two new faces in Berea this year

Kevin Griffin (left) and Zak Gilbert (right) are two new faces in Berea this year

Yesterday the Cleveland Browns reportedly delivered a Lou Groza jersey to the family of the Browns fan who put a joke about the team in his obituary. Yesterday, Will Burge reported that the Browns are changing many of the features of the Cleveland Browns game-day experience for the upcoming season including (wait for it) wiener dog races and drum lines. I’ll admit that I have my doubts about some of the things that came up in the game experience rumor mill, but that’s where my doubts end. Over the last couple days with these two stories, we might just have a glimpse at the beginnings of a changing of the tides in Berea.

As I said in the podcast last night, the Browns might fail miserably with a few of their game-day experience initiatives. Yes, Kevin Griffin, Browns Vice President of Fan Experience & Marketing might fall flat on his face with the wiener dog race. Fear of failure isn’t very endearing, and many people who end up being defined by failure never gave themselves an opportunity to succeed. In order to succeed, sometimes you need to take some chances. Plus, if Joe Banner taught us one thing last year, it’s that he’s not afraid to adjust on the fly. Remember that he’s the one who stepped up and nixed the “white flag” giveaway. So, if by chance the wiener dog race or the drumline are utter busts, expect another attempt to show up in its place. That’s my expectation anyway.

The one argument that I commonly hear against this stuff is a non-argument in my mind.1 “The only good PR and game-day experience the Browns need is to WIN,” they say. “Everything else will take care of itself!” It would help, obviously, but overall I don’t buy it.

I think it would be wrong for a winning football team to slack on PR and game-day experience too. Winning football games is hard. You have to draft well, organize the roster with free agents, hire exceptional coaches and then execute week-in and week-out. Game-day experience should be something much easier to figure out. It takes effort and research and a commitment to try different things until you hit a sweet spot. And then it takes the knowledge that you need to constantly pay attention and continually change things. The reason that people are so critical of the game-day experience at Cleveland Browns stadium (now FirstEnergy) is because it hasn’t changed enough. The music seems stale. The player intros seem stale. It’s true that Browns fans are a traditional bunch, but that doesn’t mean nothing should ever change.

It’s the same with PR. The Browns could have been defensive about the old pall bearer joke that hit that fan’s obituary this week. They could have ignored it, despite the fact that it became a pretty viral, national story. They also could have gone too far in embracing it and embarrassed themselves. In the end, I think they hit the mark in terms of acknowledging it and owning the story and the message. They managed to engage the story and involve themselves in a way that seemed both classy and also respectful of previous regimes.

That’s ultimately what all this comes down to. As a football team and as a sports organization the Browns have left their identity to the people talking about them for the most part since 1999. Whether it was analysts blasting organizational moves in player personnel or the handling of Colt McCoy’s concussion, the Browns let everyone talk about them rather than showing a willingness to speak to each story. When Romeo Crennel was flipping coins for QBs or Eric Mangini was moving murals in Berea, the rumor mill defined the team and what they were doing. No matter the reason, it came off uncaring or arrogant, which was further enraging to a fan-base that endured endless numbers of losing seasons.

Owning the message is about organizational leadership that cares about that part of the business and drives the organization to put effort into it. Of course all those things would be easier (IE less visible) if the team was just winning lots of football games. That’s not really the point. I’ve argued for a long time that none of these things are mutually exclusive. It seems that right now the current crop of leadership in Berea agrees.

  1. I don’t think it’s a straw man, by the way. I’ve heard this refrain time and again even if I haven’t quoted anyone specifically here. []
  • Natedawg86

    The Browns really need to get something better going when the team runs out. 70000 people barking would be a cool thing as they take the field

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The in game improvements story yesterday had me laughing the entire day so thank you to the Cleveland Browns.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    For some reason the refrain “lipstick on a pig” just keeps running through my head.

  • Natedawg86

    So that is why so many Browns fans have several beers before the game

  • Eric D

    100% agree Craig. Of course going to games would be better if the team were winning, but you can only control that to a degree, if at all. Stepping up the gameday experience for fans is a good way to keep people in the stadium week after week. (Still waiting on cell/wifi but fingers crossed). Jacksonville got bagged on pretty hard, and you shouldn’t do it during gameplay, but throwing Red Zone on the video boards during halftime, between quarters or even tv timeouts would be great.

    And I think you’re sleeping on these wiener dog races. Those are going to be fantastic.

  • RGB

    We filled the decrepit obsolete Municipal Stadium for years with no “fan experience” activities other than the occasional beach ball or frisbee in the stands…and were perfectly happy.
    We don’t need concerts, fireworks and wiener dog races.
    Just give us cheap beers and wins.

  • bossman09

    20+ years ago, no other team worried about fan experience either. The NFL has evolved and apparently you and the browns did not. That’s the point.

  • StevieKnicks

    This douche coming in from the Pacific Northwest with his band of wieners (not winners) needs to go back to Seattle. He obviously is completely out of the loop on Browns fans. Watching wiener dogs race to the sounds of Pitbull is a slap in the face to Browns fans, and is like taking a dump on the City of Cleveland. Go back to Seattle, Kevin Griffin. The new “game day experience” at “First Energy Field” sounds like an episode of Portlandia.

  • hutch058

    OK Bossman, what do you think should be done? Do you disagree that the experience on gameday needs improvement?

  • bossman09

    I think a rational solution would be to do something Unique to Cleveland and not a replication of what another city does. If the was an dog race that wasn’t a duplicate of Seattle, that would be nice. If we go something other than Baltimore’s introduction program, it would be nice. The real problem is not the changes – it’s that they paid someone to work really hard on copying exiting stuff.
    I guess when you have nothing, even a retread is an improvement – but it’s certainly not “exciting”

  • Stevie Knicks

    I agree the gameday experience needs improving, namely when the clock reads 0:00 I would like to see the Browns with more points than the other team. They already improved enough on the so called “game day” experience by updating the wifi technology, without this Kevin Griffin. Most fans want to see hot chicks dancing, and they couldn’t even get that right? How can you improve without bringing in cheerleaders? I don’t go to Gund Arena, entirely because it is more of a WWE/Rap music video shoot than a sporting event. Someone should have told Kevin Jackson that the old music he loathes is immortalized just one door down from the stadium. He is out of touch, and it appears our FO is too for allowing this fool to bring in his wiener brigade.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I usually have a six pack before every game and I’m at home and don’t even drink!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You don’t know how much you are right 20 years and the Browns are still trying to figure out how to play football. Imagine the experience everyone will have once they do.

  • Harv 21

    I think you have it exactly right about them needing to take care of the “easy stuff” like PR and game day experience, Craig. Sure, a quality on-field product enhances enjoyment more than anything, but the game day experience has always evolved and as the experience watching from elsewhere improves they can’t do nothing. Fifty years ago a support beam blocking views, inaudible PA systems and bench seats all around the stadium were still marginally acceptable, but you can’t get away with that now. Customer options are not only improving, but doing so at a rapid pace.

    This is why it made no sense for Randy to hire Coach Holmgren to be prez and sell loges. This was the muddied logic that a success is in the cloistered world of x’s and o’s and the locker room knows anything about watching the game as a fan, selling the product or even communicating the team message to the customers. Way past to bring in some pros and let them do their jobs. And if some falls flat, so what. There’s nothing to lose, it’s not like they’re messing with perfection.

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    I’m no vice president of fan experiences, but if the Browns want to enhance the game day experience they should take a look at European soccer. That is one area where I could never figure out why Randy Lerner did not bring more of that to the Browns as he had a front-row seat in the Premier League.

    Help the fans organize a Tifo (this one is extremely cool: http://tinyurl.com/d769op3), have a section unfurl a giant banner with the Elf on it and the years the team won a title, pass out scarves that people can hold up during introductions, there are a lot of ways to tie in to the passion the fans have for the team

    Whenever I watch a Premier League game and see the ways the fans interact during the game I can’t help but believe so much of that would translate to a Browns game.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Actual suggestions that could enhance GameDay:

    1) Better WiFi.

    2) Access to RedZone (perhaps at a charge) through the WiFi.
    3) More vendors in the stands – and let them charge a delivery fee. Or better yet, let people order food and drinks remotely with a credit card from their phones, then deliver it to them, and charge them for it. It’ll keep lines shorter, more people in their seats, and people happier and likely ordering more, and they tack on delivery charges for the service. Some people will pay and some won’t, that’s fine.
    4) More highlights being shown before the game and during timeouts so people can get pumped and/or see what’s going on elsewhere during the day (especially with so many people who do fantasy etc., and I did appreciate the consistent stat updates they started doing). Listening to an excited Jim Donovan gets everyone’s blood pumping. (Just please be more recent than “Run Willie Run!”)
    5) Better scoreboard. It’s just hard to see much on it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That was a slapped up cookie cutter stadium I thought “enhancements” would start with the actual building they play in, under. Go figure.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I only said GameDay. :)

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    I still want to know how hard it would have been for a Brown or ex-Brown or two to show up at that guy’s funeral. ‘Uh, here’s a jersey.’

    (Please don’t tell me they’d have to come to every Browns fan’s funeral after that. Nobody else is going to make international headlines for a joke like this, and the Browns certainly won’t be sending a jersey to every fan’s funeral.)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It doesn’t get any more gameday then an improved stadium after all it’s called “Home of the Cleveland Browns” after all.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If it exorcised the demons I’d be all for burying those colors, literally!

  • Harv 21

    there was no need. Saw interviews with the fam/friends of the deceased and they were thrilled that the Browns responded as they did. There’s better nits to pick. This was pitch perfect, for once.

  • Wally World

    Bring back the trough!

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Even worse. Folks have gotten so used to this Two Separate Americas thing that it doesn’t even bother them anymore, as long as you toss them a jersey or whatever every once in awhile.

  • Harv 21

    yep, the Browns need to heal America’s social woes. Or, they had hours from the time this thing hit the internet until the funeral, they heard Groza was his fav, the players are scattered away between minicamp and summer camp, this is even the time the team execs have their vacations, so two well-spoken reps brought a Groza jersey and honored the guy.

    They weren’t condescending to a working-class family as you seem to suggest. Sheesh, you sound like you’re toting a solution that’s looking for a problem. Be fair.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    If the Browns aren’t for healing social woes, what on earth are they for? Anyway, this is mostly tongue in cheek, but the franchise prints money. There’s no way it would have been a hardship to get a player or two there. Even an ex-player or two. An effort, I’ll grant you. But not a hardship. It would have meant exponentially more than the jersey.

  • Harv 21

    I’d say watch the family’s reaction but it’s clear you’re not interested. Ok, I get it, I have my own irrational sports hatred. It’s a by-product of too many years immersed in this sports suck tank of a city.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    I don’t doubt that the family was thrilled. Having a player or two show up would have had a much wider impact.

  • MrCleaveland

    There’s a thick line between non-schlock and schlock. And flames and fireworks and pro rasslin’ crapola is schlock.

    I think the Indians do a nice job with their game presentation. The fan cam is fun and the rest is pleasantly benign.

    But I can’t stand screaming p.a. announcers like they have at the Q. That crap is embarrassing, not to mention extremely annoying.

  • Henry Brown

    Wow, please stop doing everything.

  • Henry Brown

    Good thing the Browns have one of the most affordable tickets in the league. For $30 bucks you sit up high with a great view of the field.

  • Henry Brown

    Well said Craig

  • Garry_Owen

    Only guys that call women “chicks” want to see that. That would be a large population of teenagers and frat boys, but not “most fans.”

    Sorry, brah.

  • Jeremy Humbert

    They say that stadium improvements, scoreboard etc…, will come after the season. From what I understand, they are remodeling a few areas right now to take the staleness out of what exists… All they can do at the moment is try to improve, then really focus on revamping. But like I said, that’s just what Ive “heard” somewhere…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Good to know I hadn’t heard or read anything concerning physical stadium enhancements. I hope it’s true.

  • just me

    Speed up the service in the concession stands. Last year I got a coke and a hot dog mid-way thru the 3rd quarter. Finally got my food and it was already 5 minutes into the 4th quarter. It wasn’t like the lines were long – they just didn’t move. It was 5 minutes a person.
    They need cash only lines. The debit/credit card system is what held thing up.