Winning will not solve New York Knicks' problems, PR expert says

Key Points
  • Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations, says winning alone will not help the New York Knicks' brand.
  • The team recently hired Steve Stoute, founder of Translation marketing agency, to help with their rebrand.
Executive chairman and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company and executive chairman of MSG Networks James L. Dolan, attends a summer game between the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns on July 7, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

If James Dolan gets it right and makes the hires that will help the New York Knicks win, it still wouldn't repair their brand, a public relations expert says.

The Knicks are reportedly set to hire longtime player agent Leon Rose as their new team president, according to a report from ESPN. Also, Dolan hired branding guru Steve Stoute, the founder of marketing agency Translation, to help repair their image.

The Knicks, who Forbes values at $4 billion, have a 590-922 record since the 2001-02 season, a winning percentage of .390, the lowest winning percentage for any team in the NBA in that span, according to Elias Sports Bureau. On Tuesday, they fired team president Steve Mills and dismissed head coach David Fizdale on Dec. 6.

Though riding a three-game winning streak after a 105-103 win over the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, the Knicks are 16-36, which is 13th in the Eastern Conference and haven't made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season.

Ronn Torossian, a crisis management expert and CEO of 5W Public Relations, said winning would help the Knicks' brand, but it wouldn't be enough as the venom often directed at the team is aimed at Dolan.

"I think Steve Stoute is great at what he does, but I don't think 25 Steve Stoute's can make the difference," he said. "I don't think Steve Stoute and 25 other advertising companies can help the fact that you have a hated owner."

Dolan has done his franchise no favors with his actions at games, from banning fans who heckle him, to his public battle with former Knick Charles Oakley, one of the most respected players in franchise history.

"This guy just comes off like a bully," Torossian said. "The best thing Steve Stoute can do is convince Jim Dolan to not show up at games. The brand would be helped if he didn't show up."

Torossian feels Stoute will have a difficult time repairing the Knicks as Dolan will block his vision. The Knicks declined to comment for this article when contacted by CNBC.

Stoute said he doesn't believe blaming Dolan is the answer, but a combination of "coaches, [general managers], players, pride, there's a lot. I think Knicks fans expect more. I think New York fans have always put pressure on their team."

Stoute, 49, is known for his work in the entertainment industry, as he was the former manager of hip-hop superstar Nas and R&B singer Mary J. Blige. He's worked with hip-hop moguls Jay Z and Sean Combs and was a part of the campaign to bring the former New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn in 2012.

He said New York fans' disapproval of Dolan is nothing new, as the pressure to win in the media capital of the world is intense.

"I remember specifically when Tom Coughlin won a Super Bowl," Stoute said, "the following season, the Giants were losing, and they wanted to fire Tom Coughlin. That's just the way New York is – New York hated George Steinbrenner, and then all of a sudden, they started winning, and then they love George Steinbrenner."

There is no clear direction of how the Knicks will rebrand or rebuild. Though reports surfaced about the possible hire of Rose at Creative Artists Agency, Dolan released a statement saying the team is still searching for Mills' replacement.

Rose, 59, and a New Jersey native has a packed roster of NBA stars, including Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul, former Knick and current Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker. Rose also represented Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James before he switched to longtime friend and current agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group.

According to Forbes, Rose, who is ranked No. 14 on its 2019 World's Most Powerful Sports Agents list, grossed $38 million in commissions last year, and has negotiated $948.9 million in contracts throughout his career.

If Rose's hire doesn't become official, another player agent that could be interesting is Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management. Goodwin, who like Rose also represented James, is the current agent for Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, helped negotiate over $2 billion in total deals, including negotiating the largest rookie sneaker deal for James in 2003 for over $100 million, and Kevin Durant's 2007 deal with Nike, which is the second-biggest rookie shoe deal ever according to Forbes.

The Knicks could also go the traditional route, hiring an experienced NBA executive like Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who has been linked with the team name for months.

But no matter what is occurring on the basketball operations side, the next phase of rebranding the Knicks will include Translation.

"I want the New York Knicks to claim the greatest iconic sports franchise in basketball in the world," Stoute said. "I think it's a journey to get there, but we've seen this before. And I'm excited to do it. You don't get an opportunity in life, very few, to work with an iconic brand, the most iconic arena in the world, and an ownership that's aggressive and willing to invest to make it happen."

Added Torossian: "I think Steve Stoute is great at what he does. And I think he has his work cut out for him."