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More openness would help: PR expert

Says sharing business plan with fans key

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The run to last year's Grey Cup is a distant memory, the current campaign appears lost and the team is coming off a near-record defeat, yet there still might be time for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to pull this season out of the fire.

The head of a Winnipeg public relations and communications firm said the Bombers need to let fans in on the CFL club's business plan if they want to salvage what's left of the team's reputation.

"Fans don't really sleep, they're 24-7 and they live in a social-media world. Organizations that care about their reputations need to be fast and nimble these days, even if their players aren't," said Shirley Muir, president of the PR House.

The defending Eastern Conference champions have been King Midas in reverse this year as virtually all they have touched has turned to lead. The list includes abandoning plans to move into their new stadium this year, banning homemade noisemakers such as cowbells, confiscating water bottles at the gate and firing head coach Paul LaPolice.

Then there's the little matter of having the worst record in the league, being at or near the bottom in nearly every offensive and defensive category and employing a revolving door at the quarterback position.

Magic bullet, anybody? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, Muir said.

"They didn't get here overnight. This is something that will take a lot more effort than a press release," she said.

But playing your cards close to the vest can backfire in a situation such as this because whenever there's a communications vacuum, fans fill it with tweets, posts and emails, enabling movements, such as the sack Joe Mack campaign, to take on lives of their own.

"(Fans) need to know who's in charge, who will make the difference here. Is there a plan to get out of this or is the season lost and we'll start fresh next year? Communications is built on the business plan. You can't communicate thin air. The fans need to know there is some kind of strategy in play, not just on the field but in the corporate offices," Muir said.

A Fire Joe Mack petition on Facebook had garnered almost 4,000 "likes" by late Tuesday, less than 48 hours after it was created. When told of it Tuesday afternoon, new head coach Tim Burke replied, "I don't go on Facebook."

Thousands of Bomber fans do, including Danielle Snyder, who shared her displeasure with management and undying loyalty to the players on Facebook's Welcome to Swaggerville page. The 38-year-old season-ticket holder had Welcome to Swaggerville tattooed on her inner forearm last season. If she ever gets rid of the tattoo, it won't be because she's upset with the players, she said. "As far as I'm concerned it's not the players, it's the s heads in the office," she said. Losing so many veteran players hurt the team, she said.

"Coach LaPolice did the best he could with what he was given," said Snyder, who plans to keep on buying season tickets and speaking out.

"I think Mack needs to go. It's time to listen to the fans, not just their wallets. Us, as fans, put so much money into the community-owned team, we need a voice. Firing LaPolice just before Labour Day was the wrong thing to do."

There are rumours of less loyal and more irate fans turning in their Blue Bombers licence plates. Brian Smiley, spokesman for Manitoba Public Insurance, said Tuesday was the first day brokers were back at work after Sunday's 52-0 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders so they wouldn't file any transactions until this morning. There is a transfer fee of $25 to strip your fandom from your vehicle.

"We don't have any statistical data that would support any suggestion that Bomber fans are returning their plates en masse," Smiley said.

-- with file from Carol Sanders

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2012 A6

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