Serving the Sport Publics

Remember that the focus of sport marketing is consumers (or fans) and the focus of sport PR is all publics. Then add the goal of marketing is creating exchanges while the goal of PR is building relationships.

Here’s our academic definition of sport PR:

Sport public relations is a managerial communication-based function designed to identify a sport organization’s key publics, evaluate its relationships with those publics, and foster desirable relationships between the sport organization and those publics (Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold, 2012).

The key words for you to remember are "foster desirable relationships with those publics" and in our class, we'll think about that in the context of tasks performed by various professionals.

Below are eight categories of key publics that a typical sport PR person has to foster a desirable relationship with. And, they are numbered for a reason. After you’ve worked in sport PR for a while, you can disagree about the order of some of these, but for now consider the top two are:

Media relations
Community relations

In media relations activities we are meeting the information needs of the mass media who are, in turn creating information for a mass audience who consumes our sports. We do things like generate publicity for teams, organizations, and individuals so that the media can present those people and teams in a well-informed way.

In academia this is labeled the public information model for providing information about our sport organizations. A lot comes from us and is sent out to the media. By informing our key public, the media, we are informing a mass audience about our teams through that mass media.

Here are the common media relations activities that the sport PR person does:
  • Generating publicity
  • Managing statistical services
  • Assisting in media coverage and running press boxes
  • Creating publications
  • Generating online content.

We do so many of these, in fact, typically we spend more than 75% of our time performing these activities.

When we move to thinking about how we foster desirable relationships when we handle our community relations activities, we’re talking about:
  • Building relationships within our communities, both our neighborhoods and our associations; and
  • Building and protecting the image of and developing goodwill for our sport organizations and its people.

Key activities are usually:
  • Unmediated communication programs, in other words a program we create and implement without going through a reporter for example; and,
  • Corporate social responsibility programs which are popular with many sport organizations and personalities.

When we develop programs for community relations it’s important to remember that just because we share a neighborhood with someone does not mean that someone is a fan of our sport organization.

I'll share stories about that later in this course, but for now the easiest way to think about that is to consider maybe a person who lives across the street from a college stadium. That person shares a sport organization's neighborhood and is a member of its community because of their proximity to the sport organization. But, they may not be a fan of the college or its teams because of noise or traffic, for example. Not everyone who lives in the community with a sport organization will be a fan of that organization, but the sports PR person still has to serve that key public.

Key Publics for Sport Organizations

The focus of sport public relations centers on building strong relationships with a wide variety of publics.

These eight categories represent key publics with the word "relations" added as a reminder that we intend to foster relationships. Click on the buttons to focus on specific examples.
  • Community publics:
    Neighborhood associations
    Non-profit organizations
    Homeowners who live near the school
    Elementary schools
    Middle schools
    High schools
    2. Community Relations
  • Consumer publics:
    Your team's fans
    Opponent team's fans
    Fans of the sport, not necessarily fans of your team
    People who might become fans
    5. Consumer Relations
  • Donor publics:
    Donors or boosters (common in schools)
    Charitable associations (common with pro teams)
    6. Donor Relations
  • Government publics:
    City, county and state legislators
    Homeland security
    Local law enforcement
    Traffic departments
    School boards
    8. Government Relations
  • Industry publics:
    Opponent teams
    Conferences and leagues
    NCAA (or professional associations, MLB, NFL, NBA, etc.)
    Officials organizations (umpires, referees, etc.)
    3. Industry Relations
  • Internal or "Employee" publics:
    Coaches
    Players
    Staff members
    Players associations (unions)
    4. Internal Relations
  • Investor publics:
    Owners (pro sports)
    Student body (college sports)
    Investment partners
    Corporate sponsors
    Equipment providers
    Apparel providers
    7. Investor Relations
  • Mass Media publics:
    Radio reporters (local, regional, national)
    TV reporters (local, regional, national)
    Local newspaper reporters
    College newspaper reporters/editors
    National print journalists (USA Today)
    Sport-specific blogs and outlets (i.e. Baseball America)
    1. Media Relations
Common sport publics another way to look at them
Hover over the dots to see different people in their key publics context represented as who they are at a baseball game. (In this game during the 2016 super regional, Texas Tech was in the first-base dugout in case you were wondering.)

The sport PR professional is interested in building relationships and communicating with ALL these publics; not just fans. Tasks performed by the communications professional will serve one of the eight key publics.
Photo by Michael Strong. Copyright (2016) of the Texas Tech Athletics Department and used here, for educational purposes only, by permission.