AFL finally announces sanctions: An Excellent response by Essendon

So the AFL finally announced its sanctions for Essendon Football Club in relation to the “supplements” saga. I found out when my housemate asked me if I was watching the “Essendon thingie” (she was not happy they cut into her Big Brother time!)

The basic rundown of the penalties, taken straight from the official AFL twitter:

  • Fitzpatrick: Essendon breached Rule 1.6 of the AFL Rules.
  • Essendon FC fined $2m, will forfeit its place in the 2013 AFL Finals Series and prohibited from rounds 1 and 2 of the 2013 and 2014 drafts.
  • James Hird suspended 12 months, backdated from August 25.
  • Danny Corcoran 4-month suspension.
  • Mark Thompson fined $30,000.
  • Essendon will have a pick at the end of round one of 2014 draft.

So now we’re up to speed, time to grab the pop-corn and see how this issue unfolds for the club.

This is the stuff I love… Waiting to see what comes next.

I will purely be critiquing the communications techniques used in this case, this does not reflect my ethical standpoint on drugs in sport. 

First up, on Twitter Essendon announced the breaking news and provided links to where the statements can be viewed… which I like. At that preliminary stage, it’s showing they’re aware and not trying to hide. It also bought them time to develop their response and key messages.

Then less than half an hour later a link was provided to the official statement from the Chairman, Paul Little. Although I’m sure the majority of this document was previously written (perhaps even multiple were written depending on the closest outcome) but it’s still pretty impressive to see a swift, well rounded response to the issue.

The parts that stood out to me:

“We recognise that failings occurred at our Club during this period.  We must – and do – accept accountability and apologise for them.”

Accepting responsibility is wise in a crisis. It is also brave. Good move.

The order is very important, they start by addressing the very controversial issue and then butter us up at the end…..

“Through every step in this process – from our decision to self report to ASADA, our full co-operation with the subsequent investigation, the commissioning of the Switkowski Report and our briefings of players and their families – our first priority has been the welfare of our players.”

Here they do two things.

1) Inadvertently suggest they were doing the right thing all along – because if they tried to highlight this there would be an absolute backlash.

2) Go on to talk about the players and what they mean to the club, and how important it is to protect them… ya-di-ya… I mean you have to wonder how accurate this statement is, but regardless, it’s a good emotive tool.

The public love the players, we associate with them, they’re the face of the game and now through all the communications practices, we almost feel like the know them personally.

It was a very good technique to elicit this emotive response from the reader to conclude the statement. Studies show this reduces backlash.

“While the Board will shortly determine a process for making necessary people and structure arrangements, we can confirm Assistant Coach Simon Goodwin will coach the team against Richmond at the MCG on Saturday night.

We also confirm that at the completion of his 12 month suspension, James Hird will be welcomed back as senior coach of Essendon Football Club.”

Obviously they had reconsidered all the penalties and had a plan for each. Less than half an hour after the announcement and we already know who will be coaching the next game and that they’re taking Hirdy back on as soon as his suspension is up… Bravo!

Planning is key. All too often we see organisations without a plan and they struggle when confronted with a crisis as a result.

Although Essendon may have had more warning than other organisations that go into crisis, I think they did a great job.

We wanted information, and fast, and that’s what we got. I love it when organisations tackle crises and issues well.

Well done to the comms team at Essendon, specifically the media manager Justin Rodski. A great initial response and good use of social media.


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