Evolution of Sports PR
Updated: May 6
Public relations has become one of the fastest-growing industries this past decade. The need for PR has rapidly increased, and its importance has become a significant aspect of any business. Sports PR has to keep up with athletes’ social media presence, the rise of streaming platforms, and overall higher expectations from fans. The industry has gone through immense changes and will continue to evolve in the future.
Today anyone can be their own media person. The rise of social media has given anybody the ability to promote themselves to a large audience. Media training continues to be relevant, but athletes can dictate their own media without the necessity of a PR professional.
Fans also expect more from athletes and teams with social media. They expect content on good days and bad days. Social media is a part of the job for athletes, and there are expectations from teams, sponsors, and fans. Although it may be a distraction for athletes, Monster Energy Supercross PR Manager Sean Brennen recommends athletes do their own social media because people can see right through inauthentic content. The beauty of social media is it is one-to-one, and fans want that one-to-one connection.
Connecting with fans through broadcasting events has become more difficult for PR professionals. The audience is no longer watching network television with local coverage, instead opting for streaming platforms. This is the biggest challenge right now for any PR person. For sports and enterprises, it is finding out where the audience can be reached. Major League Baseball has been assessing ways to shorten the game through testing in the minor leagues for the past decade. They are doing this is because younger generations are not spending as much time streaming these games. According to Morning Consult, 40% of Generation Z-aged Americans aren’t sports fans. They are not sitting around a big TV on Saturday night and dedicating hours to watching sporting events like other generations.
One of the biggest issues thrown toward PR professionals in recent years is the so-called YouTuber. “People are getting into media that have no media background, and when you do not have any journalism background, you lack some fundamentals of being a journalist. Most importantly, journalistic integrity,” said Brennen. They typically value clickbait and shock value over accurate information in order to get attention to their content. Just about every sport has these imitation media professionals and it is important be aware of them. Sports PR professionals need to vet these people before allowing them access to athletes in a press conference or for an interview. There is a right and wrong place to ask the hard questions and practitioners should not put their athletes in an uncomfortable position if this may be the case.
Overall, PR has gotten more difficult. It has gotten harder to pitch stories and contact networks. “When pitching stories and athletes, people really have to have done their homework. Ten years ago, PR professionals could contact a number of different news desks and have a pretty good shot of getting a story to press,” said Brennen. Journalists that work for large and prestigious publications get more than 100 pitches a day. To get their attention, the subject line must be perfect. Otherwise, it will be forgotten. Additionally, Twitter has become increasingly popular to connect with journalists than pitching stories through email. The story must stand out in a sea of other content in order to be published.
The future of PR will continue to evolve. Dr. Hongmei Shen, a San Diego State University School of Journalism & Media Studies Professor, expects to see more applications of big data, algorithms and artificial intelligence in work and research. PR has been late to the game in utilizing these tools, and its application will enhance the capabilities of the PR industry. This is useful for Sports PR to help find their audience and automate, accelerate and access more accurate metrics.
There will be a high need for PR and media training in years to come. The ability to be concise and accurate in your words to get your point across effectively and efficiently will always be necessary. “Just because you are a star athlete does not always make you a great speaker, you need someone in the PR profession that will guide you and be able to tell your story. We all want to see the human under the helmet or the baseball cap,” said Brennen. As a result, the constant need for engagement and connection among fans will continue to drive PR in the future.
By Rachel Finch
Rachel is from Spokane, Washington, and moved to San Diego almost three years ago to attend San Diego State University. She is a fourth-year student pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Marketing. She looks to work in the motocross industry after graduating.