On the Sidelines: PR and Sports Crises

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Published on February 11, 2019, at 4:05 p.m.
by Dasia Greer.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid sports fan, I’m sure you are privy to the numerous scandals that have transpired involving many of America’s favorite professional athletes. Athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Ray Rice, Reuben Foster, Ezekiel Elliot and many more have found themselves in the midst of scandals ranging from domestic violence to sexual assault. The constant emergence of these scandals has inadvertently solidified the importance of public relations practitioners in professional sports.

Professional athletes are humans with undeniably extraordinary talents and strengths, but they are humans nonetheless. So just like anyone else, they can find themselves in calamitous situations and often make bad decisions.

The results of those bad decisions often result in scandals, which are known as crises in the PR world. The term crisis has many definitions and interpretations. According to a case study analysis by Geumchan Hwang, a crisis is understood to be “an extraordinary disruption of standard operations that threaten the safety, reputation, and success of an organization or individual.” It is the job of the PR practitioner to effectively evaluate the crisis at hand and then proceed to implement strategies and tactics beneficial in attempting to recover the athlete’s reputation and overall brand.

There are many ways to effectively restore fan loyalty and rebuild the brands of professional athletes. According to The Institute for PR, promptly assuming responsibility and directly responding to the scandal by offering a sincere apology via press conference is a key factor in recovering fan loyalty and is a more effective response strategy rather than responding via social media. Additionally, if the athlete performs well in games, the PR professional can capitalize on this success to restore the athlete’s brand and fan loyalty.

The implementation of effective strategies and tactics by sports PR practitioners has led to the successful restoration of brands of many athletes, with Kobe Bryant being one of the most prominent cases.

In 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old female hotel employee, which resulted in a 14-month-long ordeal. The case was dropped because his accuser refused to testify and Bryant was not convicted of the crime. Even though Bryant was not convicted, his overall image suffered a major blow, which resulted in the loss of multiple sponsorships and endorsements. Bryant’s team implemented an image repair strategy that “kept him out of the headlines on personal issues and in the headlines for what he did on the court.”

Kobe Bryant

A year later, Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract and regained several of his endorsements from Nike, Spalding and Coca-Cola. Today, Bryant’s legacy trumps his past scandal, which many can attribute to strategic communication from his PR team.

The power of public relations is evident through the successful rebuilding and restoration of brands of countless professional athletes and should not be minimized, overlooked or diminished. These practitioners work diligently to effectively restore, rebrand and rebuild the brands of many of America’s favorite athletes, who could do no wrong once upon a time.

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