By Andrew Mason
A number of questions arise from this. First of all---what is our affiliation with the Storm? When it comes to doing the website, none. There never has been. When I served as the team's Assistant Director of Media Relations and Editor of Publications last season, it was agreed as a part of the deal that from kickoff to the end of the evening, I was not with the Storm, but I was working entirely on the website, and would continue to cover the team in the same analytical and critical fashion as we had in 1997---and did with no problems and no hostility from the team, I might add. We never have been the official site; that designation has always gone to tampastorm.com, in spite of any effort we put out. We have not received one paycheck from Pigskin, Inc., L.C.---the official name of the team's holding company---for our efforts on the web. It has been, and remained until the events of this week, a labor of love.
Furthering the damage was the fact that the Storm couldn't do this quietly, posting information on its official website and sending out an open notice regarding the disagreement between the franchise and our site. The open notice---which was also sent to the league office and to my e-mail---read as follows:
Effective immediately, the Tampa Bay Storm will no longer recognize "The Storm Shelter" web site as a team sanctioned site. "The Storm Shelter" will no longer be linked to the Tampa Bay Storm official web page.
The content editor Andrew Mason has chosen to question and challenge many aspects of what we are trying to get done. We respect his "First Amendment Rights" but no longer will we consider Mr. Mason a positive force for the Storm.
If there are any questions or concerns about this, feel free to call me at the Storm office at 813-276-7300 or via e-mail at email@example.com
As a result of this piece, which in its brevity is fraught with oversight, we feel the need to set things straight, in order to avoid a one-sided description of the situation.
First of all, Marcum contends that we have questioned or challenged "many aspects" of what the team is trying to do. At this time, all we can think of are the attendance count, the difficulty of the $1 million promotion, and the trivia question in last week's game. All we have done is report facts. The fact is that it did not appear that 9,673 were at the game. The fact is that the Storm promised that the millionth fan would not have to do something "impossible" to win the prize, but, in fact, was asked to do something that simple physics would deem almost inconceivable. The fact is that the fan in the stands got the answer to the trivia question right, but was told by public address announcer Paul Porter (who read the information off the script and is in no way at fault) that he was wrong. Pointing out three improprieties does not constitute "many" by any stretch of the word's definition.
In addition, every time the adjective "announced" is used to describe the attendance, the writer or broadcaster is implicitly questioning the count. If the Storm were to deny press passes to any media outlet that has ever "questioned" or "challenged" any aspect of the franchise at one time or another, there would probably be no one left in the press box.
Even last season, we referred to the "announced" attendance on many occasions, with that term being a keyword for questioning the count. This is not unusual for local media; on an almost weekly basis, the stories in The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times use the adjective "announced" to describe the turnstile count. One day after ArenaBowl XII last August, the Tribune's post-game coverage reported that the crowd "appeared more like 15,000" even though it was announced at 17,222. In addition, the Tribune published anonymous quotes from the league regarding the fact that the July 1998 suspensions of Cedric McKinnon and Wayne Walker last year were for positive marijuana tests. In spite of this---which hardly represents what Marcum could possibly consider a "positive force"---the Tribune remains in good graces, fully credentialed and with a link to its page from the tampastorm.com website. Can you say, "double standard?"
As for the attendance count for the trivia question last Saturday---which regarded when the team hit the 500,000 mark in fans---that drew from the fact that we calculated the numbers on the Storm's attendance, checking both the team and league media guides. In both cases, the Storm fell nearly 28,000 short of the mark, rendering it impossible for the millionth fan to enter the gates for the Bobcat game. Upon learning this, we thought about publishing, but, ultimately, felt compelled to pass it on to Marcum. I agreed to mothball the story---after all, what good would it do to deny a chance for someone to win $1 million?---and it was not accessible to site users. However, since they have chosen to "disassociate" itself from us, you can access the story.
We stand by our record, not just what we have done on the site, but what I did in a capacity working for the team in 1998. Ultimately, I feel that what we have done is above board and provides a solid basis for the challenges of a public relations, communications and/or publications job in the professional sports industry. What is not in question is our facts, but our opinion.
Thank you very much for following the Storm on our site. We have attempted to provide the most comprehensive, detailed and copious coverage of the Storm on any form of media. Judging by your response over the last couple of years, it seems we succeeded in that quest. Not only that, but, until recently, it has been fun.
Talking to us about this on our message board or guestbook is good. Talking to the Storm about it is better. Post a message to the Fan Mail board at tampastorm.com, call the Storm at (813) 276-7300 or FAX the team at (813) 276-7301 and let them know how you feel.
Even after reflection, this thing continues to confound and disappoint me. If this is how this franchise treats those who toil and sweat and sacrifice as I did for it, how does it treat those who don't care about it? I shudder at that thought. I still love the game of Arena Football; however, my love for the Storm is pretty much gone. Perhaps the team should spend its time figuring out how to turn around the attendance---which hit its lowest announced figure ever on Saturday---instead of picking on a media outlet that has offered the Storm free publicity, the most comprehensive coverage available and has not cost the team a penny.
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