If the Nashville Sounds’ proposal to build a new downtown park fails, the minor league franchise can blame its own terrible public relation skills. This week the Sounds blasted a press release to the local media slamming the review of their plan that Metro commissioned. Their defensive response to a KPMG analysis of the proposal was heralded on the front pages of both The Tennessean and the City Paper, which couldn’t have endeared the team to the Purcell administration.
The consultant’s report actually found that the financial projections that are critical to the Sounds plan are more or less solid. Still, the report had some concerns about the team’s annual revenue forecasts and asked Sounds officials to make a few changes to the proposal. At this point, the team had two reasonable options-quietly talk to Mayor Bill Purcell about their problems with the KPMG analysis, or, better yet, make the necessary alterations to the proposal so that the city would sign off on it. After all, the Sounds need city officials more than city officials need the Sounds. Without Metro, there’s no land or bonds for the park.
But instead, the Sounds choose to complain to the presssending every media outlet with a fax machine their point-by-point response to the consultant’s report. We’ll reserve judgment about their response for a later time. The larger point here is that the team’s PR instincts are screwy. Any halfway decent lobbying firm would have understood that you don’t debate Purcell in The Tennessean. But Sounds general manager Glenn Yaeger has chosen to more or less try to win approval for the $38.5 million ballpark on his own rather than by enlisting professional support. Yaeger’s has single handedly proven that lobbyists have a unique and important skill that the average mover-and-shaker simply doesn’t have.
Actually, to be fair, you have to give Yaeger two grades so far: An “A” and a “D.” He earns top marks for making his team’s proposal one of the biggest stories in town. He not only developed the innovative plan, which blends retail and residential components, but he pitched it effectively to the press, prompting the mayor’s office to take him seriously.
But Yaeger gets a “D” for actually dealing with Purcell and, most of all, lobbying Metro Council members, too many of whom just don’t like him. Amazingly, one local public relations pro says that if the mayor took the Sounds plan before the council and gave it his full backing, he’s still not sure the council would vote for it. And this is a body that is friendlier to the mayor than Paris Hilton is to a camera.
The problem is that Yaeger isn’t from Nashville and neither is the Wizard of Oz-like owner of the Nashville Soundsdoes anybody know what this guy looks like? Neither Yaeger nor his mysterious boss has any political capital in the city, so there’s no reason for any council member to trust them. Many local reporters like Yaeger and don’t hold the fact that he is a Generation X Chicago-boy against him. He’s enthusiastic, witty and friendly. He’s returns phone calls. He doesn’t get angry when you ask him tough questions. But council members grumble that he can be very stubborn, even petulant. Typically, we’d suggest that Yaeger wear their scorn as a badge of honor, but because he actually needs something from them, he has to play nice.
When various council members have raised strong objections to the deal, Yaeger hasn’t taken them out to Arnold’s; he debates them instead. In the business world, people might be impressed with Yaeger’s intelligence, but as far as the council is concerned, he seems like a know-it-allAlex P. Keaton with a baseball team.
For anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 a month, the Sounds could enlist McNeely Pigott & Fox or the Ingram Group to worry about the council and the mayor while the team fine-tunes its proposal. Some wonder if the Sounds could even afford that, but then again, a $38.5 million stadium and a $40 million residential/retail development are on the line. If you can’t spend a few thousand dollars to make that happen, well then....
If Yaeger is looking for pointers on how to deal with Metro, he should call developer Tony Giarratana, who announced plans Thursday to build a new $55 million, 31-story condominium high-rise next to the L&C tower. Giarratana worked quietly with city officials to develop the deal and ultimately earned up to $6 million in tax increment financing integral to the project. The Tennessean’s Richard Lawson knew that something was brewing for weeks, but Giarratana kept quiet while he was undoubtedly hashing things out with Metro. It’s almost certain that Giarratana had some disputes with Metro along the way, but he didn’t whine to the press. He just made it happen.