Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ready for some football? Apparently not.

Even in the off-season, the NFL's Buffalo Bills -- perennial pro football also-rans -- can't manage their operations.

Buffalo Jills, Rich Stadium
(c) David Kassnoff, 2012
Last week, five cheerleaders for the Buffalo Jills sued the Buffalo Bills organization, claiming they were under-compensated for their work on and off the field. And, they may have been sexually harassed in connection with their jobs. Their management company promptly cancelled the sideline entertainers'  2014-15 schedule.

(Update: read this:

I'm not a sports columnist. But this isn't about athletic success. This is about the damage to an organization's brand and reputation. The Bills are in trouble -- maybe more than any PR pro could fix.

Besides the Jills fiasco, the Bills recently agreed to pay $5 million for sending too many promo messages to fans. Their head coach had a private cancer scare -- disclosed on the team's web site -- that resulted in screaming headlines. And, at the end of March, the Bills' longtime owner, Ralph Wilson, died. This touched off a frenzy of media speculation on the team's potential new owners.

Taken together, can the Buffalo Bills organization be in any worse shape?

As athletes, the team has rarely been competitive. As a business enterprise, recent missteps suggest a real chasm in front-office leadership. Whether critics lay the problems on the desk of Russ Brandon, its president, or point fingers at employees who've made poor calls, this many costly errors doesn't make a public relations executive reach for anything. Except Maalox.

Is there a PR solution? No public relations strategy could fix pay inequity, e-commerce violations, or astonishingly bad management of the team's website. No, this is about reputation, accountability, and ethics. And right now, the Bills' reputation is swimming in one of those urine troughs in their stadium.

Let's get serious. Pay inequity is the worst issue, especially when male employees pull down seven-figure salaries for mediocre on-the-field performance. The Jills knew the business they were in: adding a little PG-rated sex to an otherwise testosterone-fueled gladiator fest. The Jills are (were?) fun to watch. And as entertainers in an often-icy Ralph Wilson Stadium, they should have been fairly compensated.

PR solution? No, the answer is a management solution: find and dismiss the dolt who underpaid the Jills.

But, the biggest issue facing the Bills is leadership. The team hasn't had an authentic on-field leader since Jim Kelly retired, and its top executives are unable to run a business responsibly. No redesigned uniforms or family-friendly seating sections can whitewash these costly business blunders.

Wilson's death means the team will be sold, and soon. While everyone from megalomaniac Donald Trump to an ailing Jim Kelly have been mentioned as potential buyers, I'm hoping billionaire Tom Golisano (founder of Paychex) buys the organization. And cleans out the front office.

Golisano's all about accountability, and he has a mile-wide ego. He knows how to run a successful business, appoint smart lieutenants, and turn a profit. He knows that even part-time employees must be paid minimum wage. And he'd surely discharge the e-marketing hack who sent out too many messages -- and cost the team $5 million.

In short: Golisano (former owner of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres) knows how to lead. That's something the Bills organization lacks on and off the field.