Will Manso: Fins and Heat send different messages

One team pushing class, the other pushing fans away

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MIAMI - They say it's the little things that go a long way at making a difference.  The Miami Dolphins should put that theory to use.  The Miami Heat organization has perfected it.

In the last week, the Fins have been caught in a PR nightmare.  Fans protesting the poor decisions by management, season ticket holders leaving daily and even former players criticizing the way things are run around Dolphins land.

Meantime, the Heat continue to do things with class.  You want to know what the biggest difference between the Dolphins and Heat is right now?  Yes, I know what you're thinking, it's talent.  Well, you're right.  But, I'm actually talking about a problem that has nothing to do with the game.  To me, the biggest difference is image.

You can say a lot things about Pat Riley.  He's intense and focused, sometimes to a fault.  Yet, the man knows how to run an organization.  He's all class.  While he's stepped out of the spotlight to let Erik Spoelstra handle the team, Riley still leaves his mark on the perception of Heat basketball.

In the last week alone, Riley and the Heat hosted two major charity events.  One was the annual family festival that allows season ticket holders to get up close and personal with the players.  In the process, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for the Heat charitable fund.  The second event was earlier in the week when the team hosted a party at a Coral Gables mansion.  That event raised hundreds of thousands more for charity. 

Then on Friday, in the middle of the tragic story surrounding the senseless death of Miami teenager Trayvon Martin, Heat players, led by LeBron James, took a picture together with hoodies on.  Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed, and it's suspected, George Zimmerman, went after Martin because he looked suspicious with his hoodie on.

Heat players decided to take a picture together to show that this stereotype deserves no place in our society.  They took a stand together.  It wasn't orchestrated by Riley or owner Mickey Arison.  It was simply a group of players taking the step to show they care.  It was a little step, but it goes a long way.  Once again, it shows the class of what Miami Heat basketball is all about.

What about the Dolphins?  Well, general manager Jeff Ireland wouldn't speak to the local TV media about the frustration of fans.  The Dolphins PR staff says he's too busy doing his job.  Fins fans would argue that the "job" he's doing hasn't been very good. 

I'm not saying the Fins GM or organization doesn't have class, but remember, perception is reality.  It's not Ireland that's the only one at fault.  New owner Stephen Ross is botching his attempt to gain the fans trust.  His approval rating with fans would make any politician step away from a campaign.  Also, after years of making life difficult for the local media, the Dolphins PR staff is struggling in trying to relay a positive message through the media.  It's too late for that.

I mentioned the Heat charity, so I must also credit Ireland for the charity work he's done in our community.  I've seen first hand the wonderful work he and his wife do to raise money for Autism research.  The problem is, when you don't make yourself open to fans and media, people will never see that.  All they see and hear is silence and an organization that comes across as cold.

I know, when it comes down to it, sports is about winning and losing.  It certainly helps the Heat that they're doing plenty of winning, while it's hurting the Dolphins with all the losing.

Yet, the reality is, the Heat knows how to handle PR and make the fans believe they care.  The Dolphins don't have a firm grasp of how fragile a fan base can really be.  Trust me, as the season ticket holders keep leaving, they're going to learn a big lesson about that real soon.

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