St.. Louis Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin was all set to make the rounds in the national media this morning. on NFL AM and the Dan Patrick Show for interviews this morning. He never made it on the air for either appearance. The Rams public relations office pulled the plug at the last minute.
Paul Pabst, the producer for Patrick's radio show, revealed what happened via Twitter.
Love this gig. Dan teases on air that Tavon Austin is coming on show later. Rams are listening, they call in and say...we didn't approve it.— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) October 8, 2013
Mike Florio chimed in too.
Dear NFL teams -- if you don't want your guys doing media without approval, make sure they know that BEFORE their people commit to it.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 8, 2013
The NFL AM crew teased the interview throughout the the morning. Over and over again they promoted Austin's appearance and said discuss whether or not the Rams could catch the Seahawks in the NFC West race. But they never got that chance.
The Rams do have a process for the media to go through before getting credentialed or interviewing a player. It's pretty standard for most teams. However, it's a shock that the Rams didn't know about these interviews before today.
It doesn't reflect well on the team, not wanting Austin to talk to the media. And the NFL Network of all outlets, which is a pretty friendly place for players to appear, for obvious reasons. Is the front office afraid that Austin might slip, and say something about his recent frustrations with the team's play? (Hint: We know they stink right now).
Or was it something more simple, like an unforeseen scheduling conflict?
Austin was supposed to be in the media this week as part of the promotional activities around the Pepsi Max Rookie of the Year campaign. A reporter from another outlet who asked to remain nameless told TST that their interview with Austin was nixed this morning too. A PR spokesperson from Pepsi reportedly cited a team conflict.
TST has been denied credentials by the Rams before. Interviews with players that we've done have come in the offseason, arranged by agents or sponsors, never the team. Other national online outlets have experienced the same thing. I've had producers at regional radio stations tell me that the team limits access to certain players, e.g. Sam Bradford. But none of these outlets are on the same level nationally with Dan Patrick or NFL Network.
The Rams are in a precarious situation. Attendance for Rams games ranks 30th in the NFL this season, with an average of just over 55,395 per game. That's down from last year's average of 56,703 per game, also ranked 30th.
The national narrative of baseball fans unwilling and unable to care about the city's professional football team is off base. However, the Rams haven't done much since the GSOT era to give fans a reason to come to the games, with failed draft picks and losing records. There's also the team's uncertain future in the city because of the stadium situation and ownership's unwillingness to publicly commit to keeping the team under the Arch. On the field, the product isn't living up to expectations - not yet anyway. As a result, he team is very protective of its brand, far more so than other struggling sports teams that have embraced media coverage.
In spite of all that, the front office has done commendable work connecting with the fans, led by VP and COO Kevin Demoff. (Just look at what they did for one fan, TST's own Mike D). The marketing department under Brian Killingsworth embraced social media, and their creativity for finding new ways to bring fans back into the fold is unmatched around the NFL. It wasn't all that long ago that training camp was closed to the public. Now, it's becoming a summer tradition with a festival atmosphere for fans and their families.
St. Louis is hungry is for professional football, good professional football, just a little impatient.
I'm not sure that the public relations office is working from the same playbook. And that's what makes incidents like this one with Tavon Austin such a disappointment. Fans are being denied a means to get to know their favorite players because of the fear a player might say something that's not on script and might cause a temporary PR headache ... like Austin's "cousins" comments this spring or Janoris Jenkins' "strip club ready" Instagram feed.
The Rams don't need Dan Patrick, the NFL Network, the Post-Dispatch, TST or any other outlet to cover the team or send out their message. A national television contract and the marketing might of the NFL do the bulk of the heavy lifting.