My Reply to the Astros' Statement About the Cancellation of the Wives' Gala

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"There's such a thing... as manners. A way of treating people. These fish have manners." -- Jerry Maguire

There is no easy way to disband an event like the Astros Wives' gala, a fantastic annual spectacle that's simultaneously raised over $4 million in 23 years for the Houston Area Women's Center while shedding a light upon the need to address an insidious subculture of domestic and sexual abuse in our society.

When you're Jim Crane and you decide that this event will no longer take place, there will be backlash, especially when you have a "goodwill equity account" that looks like a homeless man's credit report.

And make no mistake, after a seemingly endless string of public relations gaffes, that's the situation in which Crane and the Astros have put themselves.

With a television carriage stalemate that has driven fans to a new, heretofore unseen level of apathy (didn't think that was possible), with the Monday resignation of a team president who either fired or prompted the resignation of practically everyone who was in the building less than two years ago, and with a team on pace for 41 wins (You forget that there's an actual baseball team fronting this mess sometimes.), it's not like the Astros have given themselves any room for benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, there's no easy way to dissolve the Astros Wives' gala, however, there is a right way and a wrong way.

I'll let you guess which one the Astros chose.

On Monday, KHOU broke the story that there would be no Astros Wives' gala in 2013, which would also mean there would be no six figure check for the Houston Area Women's Center, a safe haven for many victims of domestic and sexual abuse through the years and the beneficiary of the generosity of the gala event.

Instead, the Astros have chosen to focus the energy of their foundation on the funding of inner city baseball and softball fields, and the teaching of life skills to at-risk youth in our inner cities through their charitable programs like Community Leaders, the Astros Urban Youth Academy and the Astros RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

To be very clear, much like helping fund services for abused women and children, providing financial and functional resources to help give underprivileged kids a better chance to succeed in life is a noble and good cause. Jim Crane's plan is to raise more than $18 million for the foundation over the next five years, and for that, he and those involved should be commended.

However, owing an explanation to Astros fans, supporters of the Astros Wives' gala, and the Houston Area Women's Center, Crane's Astros just couldn't help themselves. They had to bust somebody in the mouth on the way out the door.

It's what they do.

The carefully-crafted full statement from the Astros' Foundation Executive Director Meg Vaillancourt is right here:

We have great respect for the vital work done by the Women's Center and are proud of the past support championed by the Astros Wives for the organization. As we discussed with the Houston Area Women's Center (HAWC) executives before the season began, we hope to continue to support the centers clients in other ways now that the prior sponsoring organization of the gala is no longer active. Clearly the decision by the Astros Foundation to adopt a strategic focus on at-risk youth in our community in no way reflects the value we place on the Women's Center.

The Gala was never an Astros or Astros Foundation event; it was previously hosted by a prior Wives organization, which is no longer active because there are no current Astros wives involved with the organization. From the last state filing we viewed, there was only 1 person listed as director and her husband is no longer with the Astros, having departed from the team last year. The other person listed on the publicly available tax forms on file was a paid consultant, who received a portion of fees raised by the Gala each year.

As with most MLB teams, the current Astros wives are very generously working with the official team charity, the Astros Foundation, the Astros nonprofit that seeks to harness fans and sponsors interest in baseball to make positive changes in our community for at- risk and low income youth. Most charities seek to make a greater impact by choosing a strategic focus. This past off season, the Astros Foundation selected a strategic focus: to serve at-risk youth through our cornerstone youth baseball and softball programs.

One of our charitable cornerstone initiatives is the Astros Community Leaders Program, a $18 million investment over 5 years in revitalizing public youth ball fields and supporting youth baseball and softball programs and life skills development, as well as providing special events at those inner city fields and hosting youth teams and volunteer coaches from those programs here at Minute Maid Park. We also will be organizing community service projects with our partners and the youth served at these fields. The improvements to these ballparks are funded by the Astros Foundation and our sponsors at no cost to the city or taxpayers.

The Astros Foundation also funds youth baseball and softball programs for low income or at-risk youth at our Urban Youth Academy in northwest Houston in the Acres Homes section of the city. Funded by the Astros Foundation, UYA provides free baseball, softball and life skills development to children age 7 to 17, with many special events and programming hosted at the Academy by the staff, which are paid by the Astros Foundation. These programs are supported by the team charity's fundraising. Going forward, we plan to expand our team charity's programming and help open the doors to additional opportunities for at-risk youth served by both of Community Leaders and Urban Youth Academy programs.

To avoid any confusion, the party planner for the Women's Center gala, whose fees were paid from the proceeds raised by the Gala, was informed that her services would longer be needed on several occasions, starting as far back as last year. When we learned this had not been communicated to the Women's Center, we met with the HAWC executives and explained in detail our reasoning. The HAWC executive director and Board representatives said they understood the gala was not ever an Astros Foundation event and respected our decision to select a strategic focus for our team charity.

While we were in the process of deciding on our new strategic focus, the Astros Foundation also reviewed details of the Wives Gala and its budgeting, culled from recent publicly available tax returns. We learned that in recent years, in our opinion, it appeared far too much of the funds raised by the gala seemed to go towards expenses, rather than to the charity.

As a best charitable practice, it is common to expect some 70 percent -- or more whenever possible -- of funds raised should go towards the charitable purpose people intended in supporting the event. In the case of the Gala, in recent years, it appears that a little more than half -- and at least in one recent year, less than half - of the funds raised actually went to the Women's Center. It disturbed us that such a large portion of the funds raised specifically for the Women's Center were allocated to pay for the party and/or fees. That was not a standard the Astros Foundation wanted to continue, especially as we had chosen to make an impact by selecting a strategic focus: now serving at-risk children and teens through our youth baseball and softball initiatives.

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12 comments
jamesr722
jamesr722

Very well done, Sean.  Their intentions might not have been so ominous, but it's startling that they don't realize how bad it LOOKS to be dumping on a charitable cause that's been associated with the team for so long.  It's unfortunate that it was handled the way it was behind the scenes, and dumbfounding that they would publicly take shots at the charity while kicking it to the curb.  And CHARGING the charity to use Minute Maid, when your organization is gleaning free PR by association, let alone how petty it seems to charge that charity $30,000 while you pay Carlos Lee $19 million.  Ridiculous.

nancy.tropoli
nancy.tropoli

A close reading of the article reveals that the sponsoring organization for the Astros Wives Gala is defunct.  Since the Astros Foundation has focused their charitable efforts on funding inner city baseball and softball fields, and the teaching of life skills to at-risk youth, they have chosen not to revive it.  I don't see any scandal here, just some unfounded sensationalism and a paid fundraiser who is out of a job.  I think it makes more sense for a MLB team charitable foundation to focus on underprivileged youth through sports than sponsoring galas for the HAWC - not that it isn't a good cause - especially when it is revealed that the % of the funds raised that actually go to HAWC is less than 70%.  The apologists make a  stronger case for discontinuing the gala than reviving it, and the Astros in no way accused the former Astros Wives of mismanagement since it was so aptly pointed out that they were only involved as figureheads. We should all be glad that the Astros Foundation is focusing on a charitable endeavor where it will get more bang for the buck.  

Motherscratcher
Motherscratcher

I've been an Astros fan my whole life. I interned in the season ticket office in college when the club was owned by McMullen. I have had access to season tickets and have current season tickets that have been in my family for more than twenty years. I have seen administrations come and go. For an administration that seems to be so driven by marketing metrics, fan input and focus groups I cannot understand why they continue to make PR blunder after blockheaded blunder, seemingly without external prompting.

First, they take a hard stance on the TV deal rather than finding a smart way to get the broadcast product into the hands of their audience. Next, Jim Crane says it's his team and the fans can kiss his ass unless they want to write him a check. Then they seemingly accuse the Astros wives of, at the very least, poor management and, at the worst, fraud. Guys like me will always be baseball fans and we'll always go to games and we'll always watch them on TV and we'll always listen to them on the radio. But who else will? How many of the casual fans will stick around duriung the rebuild? There has to be some goodwill left in the canteen to help the casual fan make it through the desert.

luvrhino
luvrhino

Thank you very much for this article.

Houston Area Women's Center's Race Against Violence was on March 2 of this year, which is HAWC's other big public fundraising/awareness event.  For a long time they were missing a headline sponsor.  Being a sponsor there would have done much to cushion the blow of canceling the Astros Wives Gala.  The timing was bad for player involvement, but trotting Astros mascots to the event and handing out some trinkets would have been a win-win.

HAWC knew before the Race Against Violence that the Gala was canceled.  However, they chose not to publicize that cancellation to leverage more money for the Race.  Instead, because they're classier than i am, HAWC didn't mention it at all and it wasn't until someone with the Astros leaked the news of the cancellation that HAWC responded publicly..

Anyway, i loved this article.  I also loved Andrea Greer's two blog posts on this, which make many of the same points, focusing on how to fix it:

http://nonsequiteuse.wordpress.com/

Hopefully the public will rally to the Women's Center's aid and make up for the budgetary loss.  Also, i hope that this clusterfuffle will spread awareness and cause victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to seek out HAWC for the assistance they need.

DISCLOSURE: I''ve been a volunteer at HAWC for the past 2.5 years.  You'd be hard pressed to find a more important *and* effective local charitable organization.

PeteJenks
PeteJenks

Great piece. About time somebody takes the gloves off and deals with Jim Crane the only way he might possibly (although given his character probably not) understand. If only the rest of the cupcake media in this town would follow suit.

Brian Burch
Brian Burch

well written article,, Crane is a Douche and always will be,,,low rent kind of guy..Low rent Org the Astros are..but, then i don't have a million dollars to invest for him to listen to my lowly opinion..

CAHhouston
CAHhouston

If Crane & Vaillancourt care so much about the Women's Center, why not meet with them to look for other ways to help them make up the loss of the Wives Gala since they gave them such a short notice?  I can only assume since it seems that this notice was given in writing, that they just didn't want to bother.  Another suggestion would have been for the Astro's Organization make a donation.  The players, fans & community could donate to the Women's Center & Crane could match for this fiscal year only since they gave them such a short notice.  There were other ways to handle this, but I guess I am not surprised that they handled it badly since that seems to be how things are done now.  

Loona_c
Loona_c

"This past off season, the Astros Foundation selected a strategic focus: to serve at-risk youth through our cornerstone youth baseball and softball programs."  Their new player recruiting program ;-)

Loona_c
Loona_c

@CAHhouston  Or have a game night honoring/supporting HAWC with a certain % of ticket sales going to them in addition to a corporate donation.  That could be a win/win cuz it might reach another demographic to buy tickets.


MadMac
MadMac

Or, next year's press statement, "Due to a lack of participation, the Astros organization will no longer fund the at-risk youth initiative. Those brats were mismanaging the money anyway. Now, we're just gonna keep it all and if the community has a problem with that, they can write me--I mean the organization a $10mil check."

CAHhouston
CAHhouston

@Loona_c Exactly.  There were a number of options but they decided to just be jerks.  

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