Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle pulled a clever PR stunt earlier this week by appearing at a press conference with tape over his mouth. Previously, the NBA coach had been fined $35,000 for criticising NBA referees. This time, apparently, he wanted to avoid a fine but still be able to deliver the criticism.
And it worked. Carlisle’s implicit message is that he would love to trash the refs but will just tape his mouth shut rather than risk more fines. And with roughly 3 cents worth of tape Carlisle had his picture on every sports page and website in the United States. Criticism delivered but with plausible deniability!
However, I’m not suggesting that this stunt boosts the long term reputation of Carlisle. As a less than avid sports fan, it’s my sense that ref calls even out over time, and the people who complain the most frequently and most loudly about ref calls are just big babies. And when that big baby happens to be a coach who makes seven figures a year who complains about hard working guys who make a small fraction of that, the complainer looks small and cheap in the long run.
Nonetheless, this episode is a good reminder that a well-chosen prop can drive media coverage, even if the prop or visual costs almost nothing.
TJ Walker is president of Media Training Worldwide. You can reach him at 212.764.4955.