Stand and deliver Mr. Chipman, your public awaits
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/04/2017 (2047 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What do Fox News, United Airlines and the Winnipeg Jets all have in common?
They all missed the memo on crisis management in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle no longer means burying your head in the sand and crossing your fingers hoping the whole thing will blow over.
While the Jets’ problems pale in comparison, United learned that lesson earlier this month in the most expensive way possible, losing close to a billion dollars in market capitalization after their ham-handed and tone-deaf corporate response to the leak of a video showing a bloodied passenger being literally dragged off a plane after he refused to give up his seat for a United employee.
After initially saying nothing, the best United head office could muster was a mumbled apology about being sorry they had to “re-accommodate” some passengers. The airline was laughed off the Internet and still hasn’t recovered two weeks later.
This week it was Fox News paying a stiff price for naively thinking they could quietly buy off five women who had accused host Bill O’Reilly of sexually harassing them and the whole thing would somehow just go away.
A New York Times exposé — and a remarkably effective social media campaign that pressured more than 50 Fox advertisers to abandon O’Reilly’s show over the past 10 days — laid waste both to that idea and to O’Reilly, a man who is now unemployed despite having boasted the highest ratings in cable TV for years.
All of which brings us to your Winnipeg Jets and their curious disappearing act this week after the Free Press broke the news that Manitoba’s auditor general had identified 59 pro athletes who received 149 MRIs — 44 Jets got 127 of the scans and 15 Blue Bombers got the other 22 — over a period of eight years, including the six since the Jets moved here from Atlanta.
If ever there was a time for True North chairman Mark Chipman to make an increasingly rare public pronouncement, it was this week. And yet… crickets.
It is Chipman, after all, who was and is the Jets’ most valuable player. There are things about the man’s team that drive fans crazy; more than a few of them won’t rest until both GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice have been run out of town.
But through it all, Chipman has remained the man, in the eyes of Manitobans, who is most responsible for bringing life back to this province’s winters, not to mention a pulse back to the capital’s downtown.
His team is watching yet another playoff season unfold on TV, but if Chipman ran for mayor, he’d still win in a landslide, even today.
Which makes it all the more baffling why in the hour of their need, the Jets didn’t have the basic corporate competence — to get their best player off the bench and into the game.
After a season in which the Jets missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and fans were left wondering when — if ever — it will be our turn, the news the team’s players also hadn’t been waiting their turn for potentially life-saving scans had ordinary Manitobans howling in protest.
While there were the usual Internet cranks who were mad at the Free Press for making “our boys” look bad, my email inbox has been overflowing all week with missives from ordinary folks who are furious they’d been suffering for months while they patiently waited for MRIs only to learn the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane had been elbowing their way to the front of the line.
The most compelling email I read came from a Winnipeg woman who’d waited four months for an MRI appointment. The long-awaited day finally arrived a few weeks ago and, wouldn’t you know it…
“After getting there an hour before my appointment, I was sitting in the waiting room and out goes Jacob Trouba from his tests. I watched him play hockey the night before and he got into a fight… The fact that I waited four months for my appointment and he got it the next morning is kind of disturbing.”
I agree. And so do a lot of other Manitobans.
Put it all together and a Winnipeg Jets team that just a few years ago could do no wrong in the eyes of the people of this province suddenly had a full-blown public relations crisis on its hands.
It’s one thing, after all, to disappoint your fans on the ice yet again and leave them watching the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers asking, “Why not us?”
It is quite another to shove a housebound grandma out of the way because your defenceman dropped his gloves last night.
Seems like the ideal situation for a timely and fulsome response from the team. Instead, we got the same “no comment” that has been the club’s modus operandi since Day 1 of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg.
That’s an approach that has been remarkably successful for this organization in the past; it is, in part, why Winnipeg now has an NHL team but that blabbermouth Jim Balsillie doesn’t. True North learned from Gary Bettman that good things will come to those who shut their mouths.
But what worked with NHL head office in the past just came off this week as arrogant and hopelessly out of touch. And with multiple investigations now underway into the auditor general’s findings and calls for a public inquiry growing louder, any hopes the Jets had that (sorry) “MRI-gate” will simply blow over is as hopelessly naive as Fox buying off those accusers and United re-accommodating that passenger.
Now, it’s worth noting Chipman doesn’t seem to speak publicly as often as he once did. It’s also worth noting that even when he does speak, it’s often with media outlets from outside the province — the Globe and Mail for a big feature last fall, the Vancouver Province last spring — even while he’s stiff-arming the local yokels.
Here’s something you don’t know: the Free Press inquired twice this week about the specific availability of Chipman for an interview. Our first request went out just before the MRI story broke and was for a simple sit-down, end-of-season interview of the type many, but certainly not all, NHL owners agree to do.
While both Cheveldayoff and Maurice have already delivered their states of the union, Chipman has not. And given the disappointment in this town about how the season went, we think there are some legitimate questions to be asked about the current state of his organization, not to mention his broader plans for True North’s ever-expanding downtown footprint.
Jets spokesman Scott Brown advised us Chipman had turned down the request because, “…He simply doesn’t see any value in having a sit down with the Free Press.”
That’d make a great T-shirt: “I see no value in speaking to you.” It would be a big seller among my family members.
I will leave it to the hundreds of thousands of Manitobans who read this paper in print and online every day to decide whether there is any “value” in hearing from the owner of the team we all support with our hard-earned money.
Sports editor Steve Lyons followed up with Brown later in the week, asking if it was something personal or if Chipman simply didn’t want to speak to any media.
The answer from Brown was, well… both.
“Steve — at this time, there are no plans for a post-season availability with Mark. At the same time in speaking to Mark, I get the impression a sit down, one-on-one with anyone from the Free Press isn’t high on his priority list.”
Aw shucks, I’m flattered.
Look, this is nothing new for me: Chipman has refused my requests to do a one-on-one interview ever since I wrote some stories in 2009 in which I disclosed David Thomson was Chipman’s mysterious partner in his bid to land an NHL team and that the reclusive billionaire had a “colourful” personal history.
Chipman hated that story and has never forgiven me.
Me? I have no regrets, believing today just as I did then that Winnipeggers had a right to the most complete picture possible of a man who has gone on to have such a profound impact on this city.
And Thomson? I imagine he sleeps soundly, snuggled warmly under a blanket made of the hides of baby albino koalas.
The right play for the Jets this week would have been to send Chipman out with a message along the lines of, “Hey, we know this doesn’t sound good and we cannot talk specifics, but rest assured, we are taking steps to ensure none of our players in the future bump a needier Manitoban out of line for an MRI.”
And then I’d have had Chipman make a donation to a local hospital in the sum of $1.5 million, the same contribution the Workers Compensation Board made towards the MRI machine at the Pan Am Clinic so injured workers in this province could get priority access without improperly cutting in front of others.
But no comment? Only the clowns at Fox News and United Airlines would have thought that was the Jets play of the week.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Saturday, April 22, 2017 8:39 AM CDT: Headline changed