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Which isn’t to say that Leonsis, a tech mogul turned sports tycoon, doesn’t have the skills to make it in his city’s main game. Last night, I watched the owner of the 1-12 Wizards (at least, before last night’s game) field questions for an hour or so from what might have been a hostile audience: Season ticket holders, folks who’d forked over hundreds of dollars to watch Leonsis’ squad stink it up.
In lesser hands, it might have been ugly. But Leonsis had a three-point strategy that a communications consultant couldn’t have improved.
1. Feel their pain. Leonsis began his remarks—and many of his responses to questions—with empathy. “It’s not easy for me, either,” he announces, unprompted, about of the spectacle of watching his hapless squad.
2. Remind people that you’ve been there before. Leonsis repeatedly segued into recollections of the “unwatchable” Capitals in his early years as owner. Like when one questioner wondered why a free agent would ever come work for the hapless franchise: “This is what I heard in the NHL: D.C. is not a hockey market. You have the best young player in hockey and as soon as he can, he’s going to go to Detroit or Montreal, a city that can win championships. The opposite happened. [Alex Ovechkin] signed a 13-year extension with us because he believed in us.”
3. Declare that you have a plan. One way or another, Leonsis worked his way back to a reminder of how he’s loaded up on young players, something he says is intentional and will pay off. “I’m convinced that we have to work hard and keep at it and stay with the strategy. I don’t see a herky-jerky, emotional response to losing.”
The owner’s low-key, cerebral answers had the bizarre effect of lowering the emotional temperature almost immediately—quite a task, particularly when you consider that players from the Oklahoma City Thunder were busily working out on the court behind him, and appeared to be taking their exercise routines far more seriously than the Wizards personnel who ambled out about halfway through Leonsis’ spiel.
And then—what do you know?—the worst team in the league went out and beat the best.
Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
This post originally misspelled the name of Alex Ovechkin