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What your business can learn from ESPN’s fiasco over Colin Cowherd…

Why is Lionel Messi not the most recognized and lauded athlete in America?

There are, perhaps, many reasons — however, there’s one that’s pretty important from a marketing standpoint.

English isn’t his first language.

  • In other words, it’s easier to promote LeBron James or Andrew Luck because they speak in a manner that the target audience of their potential customers can easily comprehend.

In essence, that’s all that Colin Cowherd was saying when he said that baseball was eroding in popularity because of the rise of the players from the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries, for whom English is a second language — if they’ve learned it at all.

That is NOT a slam on those players — or to the terrific countries from which they hail. (The DR is a place where I have been booked to speak on several occasions — and which has welcoming and wonderful people!)

However, because of those comments, Cowherd was castigated and terminated from his contract early by the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” ESPN.

IMG_3622Full disclosure — I’m a fan of Colin, and I’m appreciative that he calls me a friend.  I have closer friends that I deeply care for…who remain employed at ESPN.  However — what the management at ESPN did to Colin is so petty and bush league, it is a teaching moment for every business leader of what NOT to do!

ESPN terminated Cowherd’s contract early. “Colin Cowherd’s comments over the past two days do not reflect the values of ESPN or our employees,” ESPN said in a statement. “Colin will no longer appear on ESPN.”

  • They threw him under the bus in an attempt to damage him before he moved on to greener pastures.

Cowherd is right. 10% of players in MLB are from the DR.  There are many Latin players from other countries.  There is a language barrier that exists in baseball that does not in, for example, the NFL.

  • Here’s where I have the most significant problem:  Colin Cowherd’s popularity is, in part, because he makes controversial and thought-provoking statements.
  • The management at ESPN has obviously encouraged that over his tenure at the network.
  • Now that he’s about to leave…they’re throwing him under the proverbial bus — ONLY because he’s leaving their employment, even though he’s been appreciative and respectful to EPSN on the air in his final shows.

What does this mean to your business?

If I’m an ESPN employee — I have to wonder, if the company has so little loyalty or grace regarding someone who has made them millions of dollars during his employment — why would I ever trust them when they make assurances to me?

When management can’t be trusted, the culture of the organization becomes so damaged that it collapses under the weight of the petty decisions that have been made.

ESPN could’ve just made an apology — thanked Colin for his years of service — and upheld his great contributions to the network. (Even that is really not necessary, because…his viewpoint was correct!)

However, by being petty…ESPN management not only has eroded the perception of their professionalism in the public eye — they’ve undoubtably created a sense of skepticism and concern among the very team members they need in order to succeed in the future.

Again: what does this mean to your business?  

  • Don’t be ESPN management here.
    • Don’t be petty and vindictive.
  • Be bigger than the moment — or else by attempting to irritate a former employee, you poison the well with your current team.

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More Stories By Scott McKain

Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.