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Out-of-the-Park PR

Posted At: February 20, 2013 2:42 P.M.
by Jessica Ruffin

Photo attributed to Avinash Kunnath

The smell of freshly mown grass fills your nose, mixing with the thud of shoulder pads colliding against one another. The sound of Air Jordans squeaking on the waxed floor becomes muffled by the growing noise of a crowd in a close game. The feeling of your own throat becoming so hoarse that you can barely cheer anymore becomes irrelevant the minute your team hits the game-winning home run. Imagine being at each scene – and now imagine being paid to work at each scene.

For those who are both sports fans and public relations practitioners, the field of sports public relations is a heavenly match. However, with its increasing popularity and competitive nature, the field of sports PR is one that many say is challenging to break into.

What it takes

Dr. Kenon Brown, an associate professor of public relations and faculty fellow in the sports communication program at The University of Alabama, said that having the drive to improve and succeed is important in the field of sports PR.

“You have to have ambition to work in sports PR because you usually start out at the bottom of the barrel,” Brown said. “You’re going to start as an intern, you’re not going to get paid, and you’re going to do the jobs no one wants to do. But you have to have the ambition to want to move up the ranks in order to deal with all of that in the beginning of your career, because I guarantee everyone before you had to do the same thing.”

In addition to having ambition, Brown said public relations practitioners wanting to work in sports need to focus upon sharpening their writing skills.

“A lot of people think that writing is really a lost art with our dependence on social media and our dependence on Web and digital media,” Brown said. “People don’t realize that in order to still effectively communicate, you need to know how to write, and you need to know how to form complete sentences and thoughts that are coherent and clear to the audience that you’re trying to communicate with.”

Working well with the media is also crucial, Brown said. He added that sports PR practitioners need to be equipped to handle not only media personnel, but also the limelight itself sometimes.

“If you do sports PR, you better get ready to be in front of the media a lot, especially if you are the representative for a team,” Brown said. “If you’re not in the spotlight yourself, you’re going to be the person that’s training those people that are going to be in the spotlight.”

Breaking down barriers

Women may also face additional challenges when trying to break into the traditionally male-dominated sports PR world, said Daisy Wiberg She serves as the sales and community outreach manager for Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission and has worked in the sports industry for several years now.

“The hardest part about being a female in the sports industry is that there are a lot of people that still view it as a male-dominated industry and want to keep it that way,” Wiberg said. “Women have to fight that stereotype and usually have to work even harder than men to make a name for themselves.”

Nevertheless, Wiberg said women are capable of lessening stereotypical thinking through their workplace behaviors.

“Working for the sports information office at The University of Colorado was my first taste of working in the sports industry, and I quickly realized that my gender would never be an issue if I didn’t make it an issue,” Wiberg said. “As a woman, if you work hard, dress appropriately, do your research and have a passion for your work, gender will never be an issue.”

Brown agreed that while it may be more difficult for women, they are receiving more opportunities to work in sports PR now than ever before.

“I’m not going to say that it’s still not an issue – it is a male-dominated field and women are still going to have to deal with some of the barriers if they’re trying to break into sports,” Brown said. “But I think the ceiling is starting to crack – from a national standpoint, you can look to ESPN for a great example. I really think you’re starting to see more and more women rise above the ranks and actually get that exposure in sports PR.”

Networking and building your brand

Professional experience is becoming increasingly important to hiring managers in today’s competitive world. Brown agrees all students should focus on getting their feet wet in the sports industry as much as possible prior to trying to obtain a job in sports PR.

“You’ve got to start getting experience early because they’re not going to look at you unless you have a few internships or unless you’ve worked in the business before,” Brown said. “So apply for internships with the college’s athletic department. Look into your community for opportunities, even if it’s minor league teams or a college’s athletic department that’s not your own.”

Wiberg said that relationship building is also crucial for aspiring sports professionals.

“It is important to try to get as much out of every opportunity that you have – from internships and volunteer opportunities to jobs,” Wiberg said. “Work hard and make a good impression at every stop you make because that will be the reputation that you carry with you.”

Living the dream

Wiberg’s own experiences at her university’s athletic department, the Los Angeles Clippers and now Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, have instilled in her a love for the industry, and she said she sees herself continuing to work in sports in the future.

“It is amazing to see an arena or stadium full of people who are all taking part in a sporting event and know that you played a small part in making that possible,” Wiberg said.

Brown, who has been a sports fan his entire life, said there are many benefits to working in sports PR.

“I think the reward of working in sports PR is that you get to travel and you get to be around sports constantly – and for a sports fan, that’s a dream come true,” Brown said. “You actually get to work in the trenches with these coaches and players, build publicity for an athlete, work on behalf of a team, or represent a team that you watched your entire life.”


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