A PR Perspective: Why Have Fans Turned on Chicago Bulls Management?

Since the 2004-2005 season, largely under the management of Gar Forman and John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls have only missed the playoffs twice, and have only had a losing record in one of those seasons. The team has had a decent amount of success in the playoffs over that time highlighted by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2010-2011 season. During the four years following that season the Bulls had teams that were widely considered as title contenders, and were it not for Derrick Rose’s ailing knees they may have won a few. The Bulls management has also made many excellent draft selections over the past ten years, including former fan favorite Joakim Noah, and late first round picks Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, who is now a three-time all-star. Recently however, the fans have begun to grow increasingly frustrated with the management. The Twitter hashtags #fireGarPax and #fireHoiberg, which call for the firing of GM Gar Forman, team president John Paxson, and head coach Fred Hoiberg, have become popular trends among Bulls fans. There is even a #fireGarPax protest scheduled for the game against the Clippers on March 4th. So why is it, despite all of their successes, that fans have turned on the Bulls management recently? One possible reason for the recent turn is this—the Chicago Bulls have become a PR disaster.

You don’t need to know very much about public relations to know that three things any company or organization needs to do to keep customers enthusiastic about their product are to articulate a clear goal, to have the people in charge take responsibility for the failures as well as the successes, and to project confidence about the direction of the company or organization. These are three areas in which the Chicago Bulls upper management have failed spectacularly over the past year.

First, “articulate a clear goal.” This offseason, Gar Forman said the Bulls goal would be to get “younger and more athletic” (Nick Friedell, ESPN). That sounds like a pretty clear goal right? Well, let’s examine the Bulls offseason moves, besides the NBA draft, where it would be impossible to not at least get younger. The first move they made was trading Derrick Rose and Justin Holiday for Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez, and Jerian Grant. So problem number one here is that both Derrick Rose and Justin Holiday are both more athletic than any of the three players the Bulls received in this trade. Problem number two, Jerian Grant, age 24, is the only player the Bulls received in this trade who was younger than either of the two players (Derrick Rose age 28, Justin Holiday age 27) they traded away. Next, the Bulls signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon

Rondo, both accomplished superstars, but both over the age of 30 and past the point in their careers where they are considered to be athletic. These offseason moves seem to say that the goal of the front office was to make the playoffs this season, whether that meant the team would get younger or not. Now the point of this is not to say whether these moves were right or wrong, the point of this is that these moves did not match the message. The fans don’t run the team, but they do have a right to know what the team is trying to do. If Gar Forman or John Paxson would have come out and said “the goal this offseason is to get our team back into the playoffs,” then there would be a clear goal that is being articulated and is being backed up by the moves that were made. If the fans have a problem with the goal then fine, but at least they have a clear sense of what the front office is trying to accomplish, in stark contrast to the PR disaster that the Bulls management has created.

Next, “having the people in charge take responsibility for the failures as well as the successes”. In other words, no one likes a president/manager who blames the failures of a company or organization on someone else, which is exactly what the Bulls management has done. This particular problem dates back to the end of the 2014-15 season, after the Bulls fired head coach Tom Thibodeau. At the time, John Paxson, when discussing the firing, said “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we had won a championship.” (Brian Mahoney, Associated Press). This essentially blames Thibodeau for the Bulls failure to win a championship. Well, blaming the coach for the team’s problems doesn’t usually go over well in the first place. Also, it looks even worse when the team misses the playoffs the next season with the same exact roster, which is exactly what the Bulls did in the 2015-16 season under coach Fred Hoiberg. Don’t worry, it gets worse. Fast forward to February 24, 2017, the Bulls trade Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls management has a press conference and what do they do, THEY STILL CONTINUE TO BLAME THIBODEAU A FULL YEAR AND A HALF LATER. During the press conference when talking about McDermott Paxson said, “Our coaching staff pushed very hard at the time for us to move up to get Doug. They wanted him.” (@NickFriedell, Twitter). In other words, “sorry McDermott didn’t live up to expectations but it’s not my fault, the guy that I fired is the one you should blame!” So yes, from a public relations perspective, blaming the coach that was just fired for the organization’s problems does not usually go over well with the fans, and it goes over astronomically worse when in 2017, the coach that was fired in 2015 is still being blamed.

Finally, “project confidence about the direction of the company or organization.” The other day, heading into the final stretch of the season with the Bulls clinging onto the second to last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg was asked the question “will the Bulls make the playoffs?”. To which he emphatically responded, “I hope so.” (@NickFriedell, Twitter) Oof. I rest my case.

– Thomas Parker