FirstEnergy may have intended its purchase of naming rights to a football stadium as a "regional branding opportunity [that] makes good business sense...," however the transaction will probably be written in the history books as a public relations fail of epic proportions instead.
Reaction has been swift and cutting. There's been derision, anger, mockery and suspicion, but I have yet to find one public comment that says, "Wow! Isn't that great? Now I'm going to switch my service to FirstEnergy because the company's name on a football stadium means I will receive economical, reliable, electric service." Nope, not one comment praising the deal anywhere.
Rather than excitement, the people want to know:
How much did this cost and is it going to find its way into my electric bill?
Despite FirstEnergy refusing to disclose details of the transaction, it didn't take long for the press to fish out that the deal cost $102 MILLION over 17 years -- that's $6M every year that FirstEnergy will pay to have its "brand" displayed all over the stadium so that sports commentators and fans alike can make sneering comments about the company. This begs the question... Just how out of touch with the real world are FirstEnergy's executives that they wouldn't see this kind of reaction coming? There may be only 274 other CEOs who think this is a great idea. The rest of us? Yeah, not so much.
FirstEnergy fails to understand that it differs from other corporations who have made similar deals because it will always be viewed by the public as providing service in a monopoly construct. Any unnecessary frills will always be seen as excess passed to captive customers.
Nice going, knuckleheads.
Jan. 22: Update! Jefferies Downgrades FirstEnergy to Underperforms on Rating Agency Headwinds
"We are downgrading FirstEnergy to Underperform based on growing rating agency pressure to enhance the company's credit metrics and regulatory exposure in rate proceedings in West Virginia and New Jersey."
Perhaps FE should rethink their recent actions attempting to dump uncompetitive assets into WV's regulatory system and milk ratepayers in NJ. But then again, that doesn't raise cash and improve the old balance sheet, does it.
But, back to FirstEnergy's public relations fail of epic proportions...
Some knucklehead thought it would be a good idea to give The Akron Beacon Journal an exclusive "behind the scenes" look at the Cleveland Browns naming-rights deal. Was that supposed to help the public identify with FirstEnergy execs.? If so, massive fail, again.
The article is so bad it makes FirstEnergy look like a bunch of extras from The Godfather. Chatty Chuck (who raked in $4.7M in 2011) tries to be a "regular guy" by proving his humility:
“I do a lot of entertaining and a lot of politicking and a lot of community work. Not at Browns games. When I go there, I go as a fan,” he said. “But having said that, this was a business decision.”
And where does he do his "politicking?":
"Even now, when FirstEnergy has a suite at the stadium, Jones sits in seats outside."
Oh yeah, slummin' with the hoi polloi. It's just too far beyond belief, especially when followed up with a little exercise in threatening/bribing the wait staff at the restaurant where the deal went down:
"Jones and Ross said there was a little damage control to do after that meeting, since it was pretty clear to the wait staff what the diners were talking about. Ross said at one point, a server came in to say that the chef was a huge Browns fan and wanted to come in to say hello. The diners declined.
“We actually thought the next day we could be talking to” the media after a leak, Jones said.
Said Ross: “I don’t know what happened. Somehow they didn’t call sports radio or the newspapers.”
Said Jones, “Let’s just say we figured out how to keep it under wraps.”
First of all, Chatty Chuck needs a little education: NEVER, and I do mean NEVER, piss off the people who are preparing and handling your food. Second, your condescending attitude toward restaurant staff is not endearing to the rest of us and actually showcases your arrogance. Revolting.
Football stadiums aside, the article is also a frighteningly accurate picture of the art of the corporate deal. This is how politicians get elected, regulatory cases are decided, and laws are "put in place," as our pal Michael Morris once phrased it. It all happens out of view of the public, through wining and dining, persuading and dealing, and all done on your dime through the bill you must pay for a necessary service, like electricity.
Looks like FirstEnergy's public relations band-aid "tell all" confessional only added to the public derision they are currently facing. Once again, nice going knuckleheads, and thanks for the delicious helping of schadenfreude!
"First Energy, why not cut consumers a break instead?"