Dealing with an Angry Public in Sports | Patrick Field – Sports Conflict Institute

In an episode of SCI TV, Patrick Field of the Consensus Building Institute discusses how to deal with stakeholder engagement in sports. Field is co-author of “Dealing With An Angry Public,” and he covers critical considerations in engaging key stakeholders in highly visible sports scenarios. Field highlights six key elements that help businesses and organizations negotiate, rather than fight, with critics.

Organizations Make Mistakes

From the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the government response to Hurricane Katrina to nearly every new sports stadium, organizations often make many mistakes in stakeholder engagement. Field’s interest in public engagement stems from those failures and trying to answer the question, “why do things tend to go so badly?”

There are three major ways the public can feel concerned. 1) they can feel hurt by something already happened; 2) they can be offended by what is being planned; and 3) something happens that causes a conflict in values. All can create animosity and stifle the long term plans of an organization.

Legal and Promotional vs. Engagement

Field stresses that while organizations are most familiar with legal and promotional strategies to address these concerns, ultimately such strategies are not nearly as powerful as real public and stakeholder engagement.

“Big problems can be solved together if people can come around to the same side of the table,” said Field. “It’s a very deliberate approach that takes time and effort; it’s hard to do very quickly.”

There are six principles that “Dealing With An Angry Public” recommends for organizations working with stakeholders: acknowledge concerns, joint fact finding, contingent commitment, accept responsibility, act trustworthy, and focus on long term relationships. Together these steps can turn an adversarial relationship into a partnership.

Stakeholder Engagement in Sports

Field cites the NFL as not being able to implement these principles around the concussion issue, in the process creating a larger credibility issue with fans. Another current example of engagement missteps comes from the Boston 2024 Olympic bid, where flashy venue plans have been bogged down by skeptics, mistrust, and low public support. Organizations often try to market and promote their way out of a situation, and this is especially true in the sports industry.

True stakeholder engagement “takes commitment of leadership to do things differently, training of staff to think about things differently, people like us to help implement these strategies, and integrating this strategy with your public relations, political, or legal strategy.”

Follow Patrick Field’s work at the Consensus Building Institute here.

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