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Sports Business

Colts' Bill Polian gets earful from fans during radio show

December 29, 2009
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian only appeared to bench himself during his weekly radio show Monday night on WLHK-FM 97.1.

It was presumed he did so to avoid injury from a stream of angry Colts fans still miffed by the team's refusal to pursue the perfect undefeated season.

Kent Sterling, program director for Emmis Communications, which owns WLHK and WFNI-AM 1070 (where the show was simulcast) said the show was not cut short. In actuality, Sterling explained, due to the show's compelling content, producers allowed Polian's show to run longer than normal without commercial interruption. As the hour ended, Sterling said, it was necessary to run a backlog of commercials.

The show's listeners became upset (more upset than they already were about Sunday's loss) when they perceived that Polian pulled the plug early on the show, which aired Monday from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. It appeared the show ended abruptly when a caller had Polian on the ropes about his philosophy of resting injured players.

Maybe WLHK officials were merely in a hurry to get back to Waylon and Willie. Not true, Sterling said.

The show's host, Bob Lamey, said Polian did not dodge any callers or questions and stayed until several minutes after the show ended.

The highlights of Polian's show were many, including Polian accusing one caller of using talking points in her argument.

The final blow came when Polian tried to explain to another caller that the team emphasizes putting forth maximum effort. The caller responded that pulling starters at a critical time in the game is not giving maximum effort to win.

Polian wanted to know if the caller felt the Colts should play injured players this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in a meaningless game. Polian obviously still doesn’t get that fans don’t think the game would have been meaningless if the Colts had been pursuing perfection.

The caller countered by saying he didn’t object to resting injured players, but to pulling starters Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne who were not injured in any way. It was at this point that the plug was seemingly pulled on the broadcast as quickly as the game against the N.Y. Jets.

I want to state here that Bill Polian has never been anything but professional and polite to me in my countless interview requests in my 11 plus years covering sports business for IBJ. He’s been patient in explaining complicated issues such as the salary cap and NFL collective bargaining agreement, and accommodating when I’ve requested phone or in-person interviews even on short notice.

But Polian seemed less than patient with callers to his show Monday night. Many Colts fans have emailed me calling Polian’s response flat out rude.
One thing is certain. It will take the team’s PR department a bucket of very hot water and a large bottle of extra-strength Mr. Clean to rinse the stain deposited since Sunday on the once shiny Colts’ horseshoe image. In time, the loss may be easier to swallow than the perceived dismissiveness of the fans by Colts brass. At this point, there are more than a few Blue Crew fans wondering, "Is anyone at West 56th Street listening to us?"

I have to wonder if Polian and Colts owner Jim Irsay ever considered the backlash they would face over their decision to tank the perfect season. Surely they didn’t see the surly tsunami that would broadside their 12-year effort to build the Colts into a model NFL franchise. Whatever their transgressions, they’re smart enough to understand it’s that effort that assures the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium will be filled for years to come.

Still, some would say this misjudgment shows just how out of touch they are with the common fans paying the freight.

The relationship between Colts management and fans has certainly soured a bit.
But, alas, this is the season for forgiveness. Perhaps too it is a season for listening. And for learning.  If it is, at this point, you’d have to wonder what Polian and Irsay have learned.

To err is human. Ahh, but perfection is divine.

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