A curious thing happened after last night's big win in Tulsa. The fans (which I found out later were season ticket holders) were queued in a line that wrapped up the lower bowl and to the concourse. These fans were there for a prearranged autograph session with the full Tulsa Shock roster, save Betty Lennox, who has still not made an appearance since her concussion over a week ago.
With the line still very long I saw Teresa Edwards walk across the court to talk to team president Steve Swetoha and tell him that the autograph session was done and they'd need to arrange an alternate event. Swetoha spoke with Edwards for a few minutes and then the pair walked to the line and blocked it off with crowd control stanchions.
As a spectator of this abrupt stoppage to an event, I found it to be not only a bit odd to see, but I couldn't help but think what a big PR fail this was to alienate loyal fans of a 3-25 team. I communicated with a season ticket holder about what happened. And I still can't help but think that this could have been handled differently. Here's the timeline of events as I know it:
July 28th: An email went out to Shock season ticket holders with a calendar of events for August. On the docket was an open practice/town hall meeting to be followed by an autograph session on Saturday, August 20th from 10 a.m. to noon.
August 19th: An update was sent out to the season ticket holders changing the August 20th event - the day before it was scheduled to take place. I find it rather surprising that notification went out the day before the scheduled event. Not everyone that holds season tickets, particularly to a very reasonably priced sports option in Tulsa, has a Monday through Friday job or the ability to change weekend plans at will. Here is an excerpt of what the email said:
We wanted to inform you that the Tulsa Shock Open Practice that was to take place on Saturday, August 20th at the BOK Center at 10:00am has been rescheduled. As many of you were unable to attend the event on Saturday we want to be sure to create opportunities for each of our fans to meet and interact with our players.
Instead of the open practice, we will be hosting an all team post-game autograph session following our home game against Connecticut on Sunday August 28th. This will give a chance for all of our Season Ticket Holders to receive autographs from members of our team.
August 28th: Game day and expected autograph day - the game is great (of course) as the Shock start an unexpected but very welcome win streak. After the game ends, media availability takes place as usual, for 30 minutes immediately following the game. All the following times are approximate and taken from the Swish Appeal game thread as I posted my immediate observations.
4:57 p.m. - The game is over and the players head back down the tunnel.
5:35 p.m. - Players exit the locker room and the signing process for the long line of people begins.
6:01 p.m. - Edwards appears to say they need to end the autograph session in five minutes and the ensuing discussion with Swetoha takes place.
6:07 p.m. - The executive decision is made to cut off the autograph line. People are still standing in line, nearly all the way to the top of the seats, up to the concourse. The Shock folks in charge then took everyone's name that was still waiting in line to attempt to arrange a make-up event. Keep in mind the season winds down in 14 days.
My season ticket holder source was disappointed as one of the people nearly last in line that she did not get the autographs she expected. She was optimistic that the situation would get rectified, but also wary that it wouldn't end in a desirable manner. She mentioned to me that last season she was promised an autographed basketball for renewing that she never received.
I know the organization is new and I expect that all the season ticket holders recognize that growing pains will happen. But from a PR perspective, I just can't shake the feeling that in this case, with a team that is 3-25 and vying to NOT be dubbed the worst team in WNBA history, the autographs should have continued to the finish.
Any PR/marketing execs out there that have thoughts on the situation and opportunities for future improvement? If you were one of the fans left out what would you think of the situation and how would you want it fixed?