Sick feeling after viral campaign flop

Updated: December 9, 2009, 10:41 PM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

Brandt Andersen was just trying to fill the seats.

[+] EnlargeUtah Flash
Juan Ocampo/Getty ImagesIt was clumsy, but more people have heard of the Utah Flash than before they hired a Michael Jordan impersonator.

As the owner of the NBA D-League's Utah Flash, his idea to be host to a Bryon Russell versus Michael Jordan one-on-one game at halftime Monday night and donate $100,000 to a charity of the winner's choice was a ploy to get people talking, to sell some tickets. Just as inviting Stephon Marbury to join the team was back in September, just as putting the team's mascot on a billboard until the Flash sold a certain amount of tickets was back in October.

This is what creative owners do during tough economic times in a league that struggles for popularity: You gimmick, you improvise, you get bloggers and tweeters and reporters and status updaters to give you some free publicity on it, and get your team's name out there to people who wouldn't otherwise know who your team is. In that sense, Andersen is just doing his marketing job, and doing it well.

But he took this one too far, and it backfired. Badly.

Because Jordan never said he wasn't coming -- he never said he was coming, either -- that gave the Flash the opportunity to keep the charade up, and gave fans a sliver of hope that they might as well buy tickets because, well, who knows?

Add in that the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, originally published a report that Jordan was spotted at a local restaurant, and the hoax was perpetuated. The report was later retracted after it was discovered the man wasn't actually Jordan, but rather a look-alike the team had hired to drum up some more buzz. But it was too little, too late. A franchise-record crowd of 7,542 was already on the way to the game.

By the time halftime hit, Russell was on the court waiting for the fake MJ. And as soon as the Jordan look-alike made his way onto the court, and Russell told the crowd it was an impostor, they booed. They jeered. Some threw the free T-shirts they got before the game onto the court. They were not happy. They'd been duped.

Andersen quickly went into damage control mode. But instead of a carefully crafted press release to explain himself, he decided to extend the olive branch in a far more personal medium -- his blog.

"We wanted to test the strength and effectiveness of viral media by putting him out in Provo with bodyguards, and some hype," he wrote Monday night after the game. "I always assumed it would be uncovered very quickly that it was a hoax. In reality, the look-alike is only 6-1 so it was not hard to disprove.

"If you were offended by the stunt I sincerely apologize. Good or bad I hope it got you talking. I hope you were entertained."

The strength and effectiveness of the viral media Andersen writes about? A video was posted to YouTube of the look-alike Jordan in the local restaurant to try to drum up some more buzz and interest. But it didn't quite spread like wildfire, as only a scant 2,500 people or so had viewed the video by Tuesday morning (it's well past 300,000 views now). If the team was looking for a viral video here, it failed.

But now that Andersen's hoax has been revealed? Coverage of the stunt gone wrong was widespread Tuesday, as most chastised the owner for his decision-making. But the Flash's name was everywhere. Andersen had succeeded in drumming up some publicity for the Flash. They'd gone viral.

It just might have come at a cost he wasn't expecting.

Keeping tabs on Kelly

There's been all sorts of reports about University of Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly and the head-coaching position at Notre Dame so far this week. He's rumored to be the top candidate for the job, and it might be announced as soon as the end of the week. But if you're looking to separate fact from fiction, Kelly's Twitter account might be the best place to go.

Monday, amid reports that Notre Dame was hot on his trail, Kelly tweeted this: "Just informed our team that Notre Dame has contacted me and I will listen to what they have to say." This was the first place Kelly made that information available.

And amid reports that he'd be meeting with Notre Dame in New York on Tuesday for a job interview? Kelly tweeted this: "I'm just in NYC for the Hall of Fame dinner. No interview today -- Believe ME."

Kelly has essentially made his Twitter account a go-to spot for his side of the story. And it's just another example of how easy Twitter makes it to disseminate information quickly and effectively: Kelly can hammer out a few keystrokes, post the tweet and that's that. He doesn't have to wait for a reporter to inquire. He can put it out himself, and let the masses chew on it. In a week where he's arguably the biggest sports story, he's owning his message, instead of letting the speculation take over.

And if he's offered the job and accepts? Kelly's Twitter account might be the first place to find out about it.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.

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