About Sport Publics

Let's begin by defining the difference between the public relations (PR) role and the marketing roles in sports. (Click on a tab to reveal formal definitions.)
Sport PR Defined 
“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, et al, page 2).

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012). Sport Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Updated with their third edition, Stoldt et al (2021) now define it thus: "Sport public relations is a brand-centric communication function designed to manage an advance relationships between a sport organization and its key publics."

Stoldt, Dittmore, Ross & Branvold (2021). Sport Public Relations, 3nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sport PR Publics 
“Publics may be thought of as groups of people who relate to the sport organization in similar ways. Whoever the public may be, the management team of the organization can define a realistically desirable relationship that might exist between the two parties.

  • publics (stakeholders) are groups of people
  • sport organizations have many publics that they must communicate with” (Stoldt, et al, page 3).

The function of PR for sport organizations is to facilitate the achievement of desirable relationships with ALL of an organization’s publics.

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012). Sport Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sport Marketing Defined 
“Sport marketing consists of all activities designed to meet the needs and wants of sport consumers through exchange processes. Sport marketing has developed two major thrusts:

  • the marketing of sport products and services directly to consumers of sport
  • the marketing of other consumer and industrial products or services through the use of sport promotions” (Stoldt, et al, page 3).

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012). Sport Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

"In light of the changing media environment and an advanced understanding of branding and organizational communication, the public relations and marketing functions have become more closely aligned" (Stoldt et al, 2021, p 9).

Stoldt, Dittmore, Ross & Branvold (2021). Sport Public Relations, 3nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sport Marketing Public 
“Sport marketing is the organizational function that focuses on consumers:
  • identifies how the sport organization may meet the consumers’ desires
  • structures marketing programs accordingly” (Stoldt, et al, page 3).

The function of Marketing for sport organizations is to figure out what customers want and find ways to sell to that ONE public. You know that public by a more common name: Fans. (And, we're not picky about who the consumer is, we'll sell to the opponent's fan just like we'll sell to our own.

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012). Sport Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
The focus for sports PR activities is ALL the publics that are shown below and the sports PR practitioner seeks to build a relationship with those publics because they will be ongoing relationships (i.e., media, community or internal relations with those publics).

The focus for sports marketing activities is consumers (or fans) and this relationship is transactional, (build an exchange with the consumer). The sport marketer wants to exchange something with the consumer public (usually money or their time) to entice them to buy a ticket, watch a game, buy a product, engage with social media, etc. While we hope that these consumers develop ongoing relationships with us, often the sports marketing focus is on a current season or product line.

Material on this page is from Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012). Sport Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics and the identification of the sport public universe with its eight types are adapted from Lesly (1998).
Sport Public Relations
Public relations focuses on the broader concept of relationships between an organization and a wide variety of publics. Sport PR practitioners must concern themselves with ALL publics and are interested in building mutually-beneficial relationships.
Sport Marketing
The sport marketer is interested in consumers. Consumers are a public/stakeholder group critical to both functions, but the sport marketer is only interested in that ONE public. That relationship is transactional in nature.

Key Publics for Sport Organizations

  • 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 visualize 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.) Publics aren't individual people, they are types (or categories) of groups of people with whom our sport organizations must interact.

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.

How Sports PR and Sports Marketing professionals interact with their publics

Here’s that academic definition of sport PR again: 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 let's consider that in the context of tasks performed by various professionals.

Of the eight types of publics that a typical sport PR person has to foster a desirable relationship with, here are two we commonly serve when we conduct:
Media relations; and
Community relations.

In media relations activities we are meeting the information and access 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 called 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 one key public, the media, we are informing a larger media 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 for websites and social media.
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 to 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.

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 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.

Another type of community that exists in sports perhaps more so than other industries is the community of people who enjoy a sport, but maybe aren't "fans" of the local team.

The sport marketing role is singularly focused on one key public: the consumer, and is primarily concerned with transactional relationships or exchange processes with that public. We'll exchange four tickets for a fans' money and time, might be a way to easily describe that transactional process.