Hype – and Our Nation’s Soccer Team

By Scott Signore

The US soccer team just failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. Last night they lost a “must-win” game to El Salvador and they will not move to the next round of Olympic qualifying. Considering the progress soccer is making becoming a tier-one sport in America – and the expectations of this team entering the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament – this is very disappointing and a bit of a disgrace.

Somewhat related, I’ve read a few of the soccer blogs and the consistent accompanying image is that of Freddy Adu being consoled by a teammate at the conclusion of the game. While I admire his talent and will never be able to comprehend the challenges he has faced, I can’t help but measure Adu’s performance against all of the hype he received upon his introduction to the world at age 14.   He – and now his underachieving U-23 teammates – remind me of those start-up companies that get all kinds of buzz without having much substance behind them, and then fizzle or get swallowed up well before anything of significance occurs.

I’m from the generation or PR people who watched embellishment become far too common, and most often connected to people, products and services never deserving of the praise. I didn’t even think twice when, as a young professional in one of my first PR gigs, all of my clients were dubbed “world leaders” or the “very best” in their respective categories. At the time it seemed like anything and everything worth promoting needed to be pumped as high as it could go, even if the offering didn’t remotely earn the superlatives.

The more experienced me now counsels start-ups on communicating when appropriate, and doing so wisely. Before those companies can make that “great splash”, they have to be certain that their corporate, product and executive stories are clear, concise and appropriately measured.  They need to ensure that their “elevator pitch” is sensible, that they aren’t making promises that are impossible to keep and that they’re not shilling “vaporware.”  It often goes against the better nature of media producers and consumers, but part of what we must offer clients includes the ability to know when to turn down the hype and even force them to take a few steps back before striking out with “guns a-blazin’.”   The new professionals here at Matter embrace a similar, thoughtful perspective and approach, and it’s given us great credibility with the media we pitch and work with daily.

Anyway, for all the other soccer fanatics and USA apologists, it’s highly likely that I missed the soccer articles over the past few months that gave a realistic, level-headed forecast of our chances to move forward in Olympic qualifying. Instead, I embraced the hype and can’t help but feel a little burned after last night’s loss.  Either way, USA Soccer might want to think about finding a more balanced PR strategy – and perhaps a little late-in-game defense would help, too.