Monday, March 25, 2013

Tony Stewart, Tim Tebow and using the media

For all the battles he fights on the track, Tony Stewart is known almost as much for his clashes with the media off of it. I'm guessing more than a few reporters who have spent time in the Nascar garage over the years have stories about confrontations with Stewart.

Including me.

It was last year at Darlington Raceway when Stewart told me after a media session that he didn't need my newspaper coverage -- among many choice words he directed my way that day. And yet Stewart continues to make himself accessible to me or any other reporter who covers the sport. I imagine it's in part because he understands the importance of media coverage to Nascar -- and to the companies that give his race team millions of dollars -- whether he personally likes us or not.

When I heard about Tim Tebow's fan appearance at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas, last Wednesday, I couldn't help but think of Stewart.
Seems Tebow must not be particularly fond of the media these days, either. With his recent decision not to speak at a controversial Dallas church, and with more questions than answers about his future in the NFL, there's a lot Tebow probably doesn't want to talk about right now.

Still, his media management was a bit over the top in Corpus Christi. According to a reporter who was there, the media were given a typed list of do's and don'ts for Tebow's visit. It was mostly about the don'ts: Don't go on the field (where Tebow would speak). Don't record any audio. Don't videotape more than 60 seconds of Tebow -- and don't use audio on the videotape, either. Don't take pictures while he's talking. And don't dare ask him any questions.

Yep, they actually wrote all of this down.

I've been to plenty of fan events before and never saw a list like this.  According to a reporter who was there, even the people he came to support -- the YMCA and the Miracle League of Corpus Christi, a non-profit organization that provides children with mental and physical disabilities the chance to play baseball -- apparently were not pleased with the strict rules given to the media. Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Sarah Acosta wrote in an email to media watchdog Jim Romenesko that the group was hoping for positive publicity for the event and for the cause. Wasn't that part of why Tebow was invited?

Funny, it wasn't too long ago that the media helped build Tebow's iconic image back when he was at the University of Florida and then with the Denver Broncos. And for years, the media provided a platform for Tebow to deliver his personal message.

But maybe the media wasn't so kind to Tebow in New York. Or maybe it's just easier nowadays to bypass all of that in this age of Facebook, Twitter, web sites and marketing machines -- Tebow turned to Twitter to announce he wasn't speaking at the Dallas church where the pastor has been accused of being anti-gay and anti-semitic.

Tebow isn't alone in keeping the media at arms length. I've watched Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton do the same ever since he arrived in Charlotte and I suspect it has hurt his popularity in town. After all, it's hard to be likeable when you're so inaccessible that people don't get to know you. And it doesn't do much to sell tickets, particularly when the team struggles.

Yes, Tim Tebow can eliminate availability and tweet all he wants, but he can't remove newspapers and web sites and professionals from the popular discussion. You don't get to decide how you are covered. So the best way to help shape that discussion is by being part of it. Unless you really wanted the talk right now to be about your mishandling of the media in Corpus Christi.

The lesson for Tebow? You don't have to like the media to use it to your full advantage. Just ask Tony Stewart.

Photo credit: sportiqe / / CC BY-SA

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