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April 9, 2012

Opinion: Mariners flunk PR 101

DJC Publisher

Sometimes it's best just to keep quiet. Seattle Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln blundered big time with his whiny letter complaining about plans for building an arena for professional basketball and hockey near Safeco Field.

Lincoln wrote to Mayor Mike McGinn, County Executive Dow Constantine, and city and county council members in response to San Francisco-based hedge fund manager Chris Hansen's proposal to put an arena on land south of the Safeco Field parking garage.

“The proposed Sodo location, in our view, simply does not work,” Lincoln said in the letter. Seattle area sports fans howled on talk radio and online. Here's a typical sentiment from Jason in Seattle to The Seattle Times: “So incredibly disappointing. If the Mariners ruin this I will never spend another dime supporting this team.''

Lincoln does not seem to realize that sports fans are his customers. Why alienate them needlessly?

It should be easy enough for Lincoln to express the Mariners' concerns privately. Work behind the scenes like a player and try to influence policy by talking to other civic leaders.

Maybe call the county executive and say you're worried about traffic. Lincoln's letter mentions legitimate issues about parking and traffic, but many sports fans think the Mariners are just trying to keep competitors away. People may spend their extra cash on an NBA game instead of baseball.

As perennial cellar-dwellers, the Mariners need to be more careful with their public statements. Due to consistent poor performance on the field, including becoming the first MLB franchise to lose 100 games while having a $100 million payroll, the Mariners should think about how fans will respond. The Seahawks and Sounders likely have similar traffic concerns, yet they are savvy enough not to speak out against the proposed arena.

A citizens panel gave the idea high marks, and the mayor and county executive are doing what they can to bring basketball back to Seattle.

Lincoln should know that, this being Seattle, there will be lots of meetings and studies about a $500 million project. The Mariners have a chance to get their concerns addressed, and there's a right way and a wrong way to do that. Lincoln and the Mariners took the wrong way.


Phil Brown can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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