Bon Jovi has credibility problem discussing Bills purchase and move

Jon Bon Jovi has a PR problem — beyond his ’80s ‘do.

The New Jersey-based rocker is the front man for a Toronto-based group that wants to buy the Buffalo Bills and, if he is to be believed, let them prosper in Western New York.

Bills fans, thousands of whom travelled to Canton, OH over the weekend to see former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, aren’t buying it.

Bon Jovi tried to ease their worries with a letter to The Buffalo News that the paper published Sunday. It promised to maintain the legacy of late Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson and said a lot of nice things about the region.

In an unscientific poll, WBEN radio today reports that fans are running 91 percent skeptical.

Also skeptical is the Buffalo Fan Alliance, a client of mine at Eric Mower + Associates, and a group that has a plan to raise money so an owner that will keep the team in Buffalo can save on debt service on the expected $1 billion-plus deal. This would all be just a lot of fun if it weren’t so deadly serious. There are bars, fans and radio stations in Western New York boycotting Bon Jovi’s music.

Bills fans see Bon Jovi as a carpetbagger, someone who soothes and smooths his way into the fans’ comfort zone and then sneaks out the back door with the goods — in this case their team.

As the Fan Alliance directors’ statement says:

In the interest of all Bills fans, we appreciate Bon Jovi’s recent public statement and would like to believe that his group is committed to seeing the team remain in Buffalo for generations to come.

Given the makeup of his group and some of the recent information that has come to light regarding their site selection process for a new stadium, however, we remain highly skeptical of the Bon Jovi group’s intentions. While we appreciate his sentiment, it’s worth noting that nowhere in his letter does he write or directly state or legally commit his group to ‘not moving the Bills from Buffalo.’

Given the Bon Jovi group’s roots and business commitments in Toronto, the Buffalo Fan Alliance believes that this group will have to tangibly and unequivocally demonstrate to Bills fans everywhere the group’s commitment to Western New York before this community and this fan base will believe their intentions. Anything short of formal action taken on their part will be viewed as nothing more than rhetoric.

If they are sincere in their commitment to Buffalo, we would ask them to enter into a binding pre-purchase agreement with the state and county whereby they would agree to proactively waive the one-year buyout clause in the seventh year of the current lease if they were to successfully purchase the team. If they are truly committed to Buffalo, such an escape clause would not be necessary for them anyway and this would be a simple and demonstrable first step of their sincerity for keeping the team in Western New York. As such, the Buffalo Fan Alliance would call for them to now publicly make such a commitment as a show of good faith on their part.

We also believe that they would need to announce formalized plans for a long term-stadium solution in New York either in advance of, or contemporaneously with, any successful ownership declaration. Whether this be a more comprehensive retrofit of Ralph Wilson Stadium or a new stadium altogether, a stated time-frame and binding commitment to one of the two options needs to be taken by this group so that the team will remain viable in this region for a period well beyond the current lease term.

The Sporting News wrote that the Fan Alliance called Bon Jovi’s bluff.

Clearly, this is not a crisis. But one aspect of solving a crisis is credibility. Do you, or your company, have enough credibility so you can stem the crisis with facts that persuade the public, your employees or constituents, and anyone else out there in social media land with an opinion, that you are truthful and earnest.

Bills fans made it clear to Bon Jovi they see his letter as a ploy.

Half the battle in any crisis or PR campaign is perception. If Bon Jovi thought he’d shift the perception that he’s trying to “steal” Buffalo’s team, he was mistaken.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.





About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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