Social Media and Sport Industry

When prevention is not possible, public relations most of the time play a key role in minimising damage.
When prevention is not possible, public relations most of the time play a key role in minimising damage.

The intense attention of social media and public in sport is a gift, and also a curse. Today social media has become one of the most important factors in the sports industry.

Nevertheless, through effective public relations, sports organisations may prevent the development of various issues that could at the end damage their prestige. And when prevention is not possible, public relations most of the time play a key role in minimising damage. (Stoldt et al., 2012, p.168)

The business of sports is a complex, yet sophisticated, web of relationships which focuses on a sports entity, for example a sports organisation, a sports sanctioning committee, a sports team, or an athlete (Helland, 2007, pp.105-19). Likewise, being the main focus of the relationship web, the sports entity acts as a conduit for various stakeholders to unite and communicate desired messages.However, even though stakeholders change as per the entity – a team, an athlete, or a sanctioning committee – there are three stakeholders which remain the same: fans, sponsors and media. Appendixes 1, 2 and 3 illustrate the stakeholders involved in each sports entity.

The relationship web for a sports organisation starts with collecting enough capital, mainly supplied by sponsors. Generally a sports organisation provides services which it has to sell to prospective business partners and sponsors. The organisation has to continually convince sponsors by showing it has something profitable to offer(Amis & Cornwell, 2005, p.108). Furthermore, the predicted success of the event being organised by the sports organisation is important since this is a determining factor for receiving of funds, number of fans and media coverage; thus affecting the visibility of sponsors. In short, a sports organisation needs sponsors, and sponsors need visibility and media channels. Taking into account these relationships, the PR department of the sports organisation has the duty to create and maintain the corporate success of the organisation. Overlooking one public in these relationships and making another one more important may lead to a damaging effect on the sports organisation. (Coombs, 2009, p.4)

The public relations department of a sports organisation has to be conscious of the relationship with the media, since it is an effective way through which the organisation can spread its message to different publics. Nonetheless, media does not only comprise of traditional means, like newspaper, radio and television; it goes further than that into the Internet, and in recent times the social media.

Many sport organisations use PR to endorse their services and/or products; while others use public relations to show social responsibility. Notwithstanding, others propose PR programs to connect with supporters, sponsors, investors and even employees. As a consequence of these numerous purposes, public relations capability is very significant for professionals engaged in sport management (Favorito, 2013).

The exchange of information and conversations on online social networks ideally produces favourable publicity for sport organisations. Consecutively, the favourable publicity has the tendency to lead to an increased awareness about the sport organisation and at the end to an increase in revenue. Since recently, the role of public relations practitioners in sport organisations has changed from publicity-generating into a development of diverse positive content about the organisation on social media (Stoldt et al., 2012).

According to Grunig and Hunt (1984), there are two models which are commonly used by sport organisations on social media to turn information currency into organisational revenue. They are the press agentry and publicity model in which public relations practitioners try to bring on as much publicity as possible for their sport organisations (1984, p. 154). Table 1concludes that social media has proved to be the most advantageous sport communication tactic compared to others.

Table 1. Sport communication tactics – advantages and disadvantages (Smith, 2005)

Tactic Public reach Public impact Sport examples Advantages and disadvantages
Social media High High Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Blogging Reach largest number for free andconvincing, allow text, pictures and videos in releases; limited to internet users and not in control of responses from public
Advertising and promotional media High Low Newspaper advertisement that promote an upcoming event Reach large number for considerable cost; overlooked by public as a paid message
News media Medium to high Medium to low News releases; press conferences Reach large number for free and extremely credible; rely on media (third party) to deliver message
Organisational media Medium to low Medium to high Media guides; programs Reach only publics which are interested in the organisation; often involve an extra purchase by consumer
Interpersonal communication Low High Facility tours; community open houses Persuasive face-to-face association; reach only those in attendance

Furthermore, press release has been an essential tool for decades for PR practitioners in the sports industry. The formatting has been definite and pre-set with headline on the centre-top, contact information on bottom left corner and For Immediate Release on top right.However, later on with the rapid growth of social media, where messages could be transferred to every corner of the world with text, pictures and videos, many PR professionals shifted from traditional press release to Social Media Release (SMR). (Wilstein, 2002, p.172)

Though many PR practitioners in the sports industry believe that the traditional press release should be replaced by SMR, Deirdre Breakenridge believes that newsrooms and PR professionals should come up with a more informative, timely, accurate and less corporate press releases. (2008, p.103)

The SMR revolution has today led PR practitioners to include hyperlinks, pictures, videos, audio and social media contact information in releases. Reporters find these news releases more in-depth and digestible(Solis, 2008).Ultimately, the main goal of social media engagement is to connect different publics – fans, athletes, sponsors and media – to the sports entity and spectacles what the entity offers in its services. At the same time, sports organisations have made monitoring of social media their top priority since the public have the opportunity to post opinions openly.

In the words of PR blogger Jeremy Pepper, “The irony of the New PR is that it’s not anything new, it’s just the industry adapting to new forms of communications – which is something that our industry has always been able to do.”(Gillin, 2007, p.125)

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