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PR's Game Plan for the Sports Industry

Posted At: September 24, 2010 9:41 AM
by Paige  Niewerth

While millions of sports fans cheer in stadiums and living rooms around the nation, few people applaud, or even acknowledge, the behind-the-scenes work of a public relations professional. Public relations is an essential aspect in the sports industry and has been especially noticeable during the past few years.

One role of public relations in the sports industry is to promote a positive image. Whether a sports team, league, coach, player or sponsor, every part of the sports industry depends heavily on image and how the public and fans view it. In order to create successful marketing strategies and product education, public relations representatives must be constantly aware of their arena.

Examples of public relations’ importance to the sports arena include incidents such as those with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant. Irresponsible actions from both athletes proved the necessity of public relations in the sports world; without it, both athletes’ careers would have been jeopardized, and the public’s respect of their teams would have been in danger, as well.

“Public relations representatives must be skilled to handle situations like these in a media frenzy,” Golf Channel reporter Win McMurry said.

A public relations representative’s role during a crisis is not only to support the players, but also to make sure a positive image of the organization is portrayed. Doing so helps guard against fans developing a negative perception of the player or team. Sports teams have constructed specific brand images for their organizations in order to remain on good terms with their publics.

“An athlete’s private life is public interest,” McMurry said. “That’s how society is with tabloids and media.”

Public relations is also important to the sports industry when a player is making a career move. Many athletes and coaches prefer to deal with trading and retirements in private to avoid losing a fan base and to maintain a positive personal image. By negotiating privately or through agencies, athletes and coaches can avoid dealing with the media as much as possible.

Trades and retirements done in the public eye can be detrimental to a player or team image. When LeBron James traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, he kept his fan base, the public and the media on the edge of their seats for an extended amount of time. Due to the way he approached his trade, James left his hometown of Cleveland on bad terms.

In a similar manner, many sports fans feel Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings has been indecisive about retirement during the past several seasons. A few weeks ago,USA Today held an interview with Favre discussing how he believed the media caused unnecessary drama about his retirement date. In the interview, Favre explained that he would not intentionally prolong his decision for further attention and that his decision to return for a 20th season was largely based on his health.

Though many players strive for additional attention, some teams are willing to take public relations hits as long as they feel the player can perform. For instance, NFLRedskin Albert Haynesworth has caused a number of problems with the team and the league’s standards. However, because the Redskins have such a huge investment in him, public relations representatives realize they are to continue to promote the athlete. Unless the team can gain value with a trade to benefit the organization, Haynesworth will remain a Redskin because of his ability to perform.

“Teams will put up with a lot if they think the player will help them win,” former Alabama Crimson Tide and NFL player Ricky Davis said. Now an attorney in West Palm Beach, Davis has worked with professional athletes and coaches of both college and professional teams.

When a crisis or controversy occurs, it is important that players and teams have the opportunity to relay their message through effective communication. A public relations representative communicates with the public and has the ability to provide official comments and statements when teams or players are in trouble or dealing with a crisis. The representative can approach the media herself, or prepare the coach or player with appropriate statements in a timely manner.

Davis believes in most crisis situations, it is best to address the public as quickly as possible. Though it is not clear whether the delayed response from Tiger Woods was the fault of International Management Group, Tiger Woods’ sports agency or Woods’ decision, the delay hurt Woods’ image; a more rapid response addressing the public could have possibly helped the situation. When the issue was finally addressed weeks into the scandal, Woods released his apology statement but refused to take questions. By not approaching the public in a timely manner, Woods gave the media and the public time to make their own accusations about his cheating scandal.

“As much as players would like to separate their professional and public life, players need to realize that it comes with the territory,” Davis said.

Effective communication to the public, media and other organizations is essential, as well. For example, PR professionals regularly use press releases to promote upcoming games, events, fundraisers and breaking news. Press releases are a way the public and media are notified of an event and the details concerning it.

Public relations representatives take both the risks and responsibilities of working within sports organizations. Through their work, public relations remains essential to the sports industry, contributing to the success of teams, players and coaches.

Have you experienced public relations affecting or impacting the sports industry in other ways?


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