Newspapers are struggling. They are laying off hundreds of reporters, cutting pages, and losing advertising dollars. Just earlier this month, the NY Times announced that they are merging the Business and Sports sections on Tuesdays through Thursdays. The paper says that the actual coverage will not be cut and that this move is just to reduce printing costs. While the NYT may not be cutting sports coverage yet, other print properties are and that has teams and leagues scrambling for ways to keep their property in the media spotlight.
Not only are papers shrinking in size, but papers can no longer afford to send sports reporters and columnists to the big events each year. Instead, they have to rely on wire services or newspaper groups will send just one reporter to an event and use his/her work for all the papers within the group. These developments have sports PR departments everywhere adjusting to how they operate whether it’s reaching out to bloggers, improving offerings on team/league websites, assisting with travel costs, etc.
According to a recent Sports Business Journal article, NASCAR officials are trying to make it easier for reporters to cover their events without actually being in attendance. Their media website includes video interviews with drivers after weekly races and offers conference calls with its drivers every Tuesday.
The NHL is another league that really understands the digital realm and has been the first league to partner up with unique digital ventures like Slingshot and a fantasy hockey league with Yahoo! Sports. So I wasn’t surprised to read the following quote in the article:
“There is a new universe in news coverage – the people who used to be able to write one story if they were lucky can blog 20 times per day,” said Frank Brown, group vice president of media relations at the NHL and a former reporter for the New York Daily News. “You can make the argument that the fan is being better served and more currently served in real time by te evolution and the [Web] coverage.”
I think the two most important things leagues and teams can do to boost their media coverage, especially those smaller leagues, is (1) reach out to bloggers and (2) increase their offerings on their media website to make it easier on reporters. For example, transcribing post-game scrum interviews and quickly providing them to reporters on-site and posting them to the media website would certainly help reporters and bloggers with their work. When you’re in a locker room, you only have a certain amount of time to talk to players. What if you missed a key quote from a player who you didn’t get to talk to? An interview transcription would help ease reporters’ concerns that they missed something important.
People are continually turning to the Internet for its news and sports are a large portion of that. Whether it’s visiting ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, Deadspin, AOL FanHouse, or a smaller blog, sports fans are increasingly turning to digital offerings for their sports news. If you are a team or league that is noticing a decrease in print coverage, turn to those who are talking about you online. For example, the Washington Capitals were unhappy with the amount of print articles they were getting in local papers so they developed a blogging policy and extended invitations to Caps bloggers to cover their team from the press box. I’m not suggesting that you allow every interested blogger access to your team’s media site or the players after the game. I think if you open your team or league up to the right digital websites and blogs, you will get the coverage you want and it’s by people who have already demonstrated an interest in you!
As the New York Giants and Mets recently learned, public vetting is needed before signing a naming rights deal with any company. Not only have past deals harmed a team’s PR (think Enron and the Houston Astros), but the possibility of a potential naming rights deal with Allianz, a German-based insurer, understandably angered fans and the deal was dead later that week.
An article in the Sports Business Journal compared a naming-rights deal to that of selecting a vice presidential running mate. And what are the two key rules? Do no harm and “nothing vets like the process.” Well, the NY Times reported the possible deal in an NFL notes column on September 1. Perhaps that information was leaked before the Giants and Jets had time to properly vet Allianz, but we just don’t know.
Okay, so why is Allianz such a bad idea for these New York teams? As NY Times‘ Richard Sandomir wrote:
“Allianz insured facilities and personnel at concentration camps like Auschwitz and Dachau. Kurt Schmitt, its chief executive in the 1930s, served as Hitler’s second economics minister and can be seen in a photograph from a rally wearing an SS-Oberfuhrer’s uniform and delivering the Nazi salute with Hitler standing in front of him. Like other insurers in Germany at the time, Allianz followed anti-Semitic policies by terminating o refusing to pay off the life insurance policies of Jews, and sent cash that was due beneficiaries and survivors to the Nazis. It also became the insurer of Jewish valuables taken by the Nazis.”
An editor at Forbes blogged about this very issue and ponders why Allianz was such a big deal when other companies could be seen to have similar historical implications.
But the boycott and death of the Allianz sponsorship begs the question: What about other sports related deals with companies that have ties to governments that have committed atrocities in the past? …
Why stop at stadium naming rights?
Mercedes-Benz, a huge part of the Hitler war machine, sponsors the NBA, NFL and PGA golf tournaments. Should the auto maker be given the boot? There is a lot in a name—both money and emotion—when it comes attached to a property that will be given enormous attention. But shouldn’t the rules be applied evenly?
As this Forbes’ article discusses, naming-rights are big money for teams and help pay for these expensive new stadiums. Team executives need to not only consider if the financial deal is worthwhile, but they also need to consider any potential negative PR implications.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the Orlando Magic were no longer offering hard copy media guides to their season ticketholders. Well, just a few weeks ago the NHL modified its media guide policy effective immediately. In the past, each team had to send X number of their guides to the league and each of the other teams. Now that will all be done electronically. Each team will still be able to determine whether they want to print media guides for their press boxes and/or selling them to fans.
Greg over at Puck Daddy argues that NHL teams waste paper on things worse than media guides. One idea he mentioned is reducing the press box releases. I can say firsthand, it’s amazing how much paper teams go through every game day between printed press releases, statistics, game notes, etc.
From personal experience, I can say that it was nice for team staffers to have all of the NHL teams’ media guides when we needed to get information. That being said, we also had a closet full of team media guides, many of which went unused. There was great demand for our team’s guides and our opponents in the playoffs, but we had guides for teams that we didn’t even play so I agree with the NHL that there are reasonable ways to cut down on paper waste. However, I know that team media guides are quite popular among fans so I don’t really predict many NHL teams will stop producing print media guides for fans to purchase.
Over the past two years, the Washington Capitals PR staff led by Nate Ewell has received the Dick Dillman Award, which is given yearly to the best media relations team in the Eastern Conference as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA). They were the first team that I know of to work with a well-established hockey blogger, Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion, and draft a blogger policy to help fairly decide which hockey bloggers qualified for a spot in the press box at games. This is just one example of their innovative thinking. The PHWA members vote based on numerous factors including the quality of the media guide, willingness to help facilitate interviews, and the cooperation, efficiency, fairness, accuracy and presentation of media notes. It’s safe to say that the Caps run a top-line PR department.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Caps’ PR staff hosted a media fantasy camp nearly two weeks ago at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. A variety of media participated including print and electronic media from different levels of coverage. What did it ential? First, they watched video on power play strategy. The media contingent then took the ice where they participated in tutorial sessions in skating, shooting, stickhandling, and even fighting with enforcer Donald Brashear. Afterwards, they played in a scrimmage providing plenty of fodder for trash talk among the media members. All in all, it appears that the media enjoyed their time and even helped Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck better appreciate the skill required by hockey players (he is known for his baseball writings).
Personally, I think it was an absolutely fantastic original idea that captures the core reason of why the Caps’ PR staff is so successful. They think outside the box and came away with another successful idea. The Caps are a team on the rise as we saw with their playoff appearance last season. They have a superstar on their hands who the media loves and they are seeing season ticket sales skyrocket. In July, team officials stated that the sales were on target to reach 12,000 season ticket holders, which would be a 40% increase from last year. Even with all of this great news for the team, print media coverage is still low in the D.C. market, which is why this was a great event to raise interest among a variety of reporters from ESPN radio and ESPN the Magazine to local print and television. Hopefully, the Caps will see an increase in coverage from both local and national outlets on a rising team in the NHL.
Seven months ago, Florida Panthers’ forward Richard Zednik faced death at the HSBC Arena in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. His teammate’s skate had severed his carotid artery. Fortunately, Zednik acted quickly and skated over to the bench where athletic trainer David Zenobi and later Sabres’ doctor Les Brisson were able to apply pressure on the wound right away, which saved his life. So why am I mentioning this here on a sports PR blog? Upon his return this week, Zednik commented on how he hopes people (aka reporters) can move past the incident. Every time someone asks him about it, Zednik essentially re-lives the haunting moments as he has to describe it to reporters.
”I just want to get back to playing, to being a leader on the ice,” Zednik said. “I don’t want people asking me about this all year. We’ll do something before the season. We’ll make a tape or something for everyone. I don’t want to think about it. I want to play hockey. I don’t want what happened in my mind.”
Miami Herald reporter George Richards discussed in his blog on how that’s not going to fly with the media.
He says he doesn’t want to be asked about the accident in Buffalo on a weekly — or daily — basis, and says he and the Panthers PR crew are working on some sort of solution. That could be something as easy as them doing an interview with Richard and taping it, then giving DVD copies to media types in each city.
I can obviously understand why Zednik doesn’t want to constantly have to describe the incident, but the unfortunate incident is something reporters want to talk about when he comes into town because it offers them a unique angle for a story. As a beat reporter, you are constantly trying to find something different to write about because you are dealing with the same team day in and day out so Zednik’s horrifying incident is something that certainly has appeal to reporters, but is understandably difficult for Zednik and the Panthers’ PR staff to manage.
I get why they would want to just put his thoughts on tape so that he doesn’t have to constantly re-live the experience, but reporters don’t want to have the same quote on the incident that was given to another reporter a month or even two months ago. They want something fresh. Richards speculates that the PR staff will have him unavailable to the media because otherwise you can’t really prevent reporters from asking him about it. Zednik isn’t the biggest name on the team in terms of offensive production (he had a 15-11-26 line in 54 games last season), but if that’s what the PR staff elects to do there will be some upset reporters along the way.
After rumored reports surfaced on ESPN and NBC, Lance Armstrong announced earlier today that he will, in fact, return to the sport of professional cycling for the 2009 season. In the video I just linked to, Armstrong states that he will reveal more details about his un-retirement plan at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 24th.
According to rumor, Armstrong will not be racing for a salary or bonuses. In addition, he will allegedly post results from his drug tests online for the world to see.
Armstrong, who had been dogged by doping allegations during and even after his career, also mentioned that he wanted to test himself against athletes in this era of the sport. Referring to performance-enhancing drugs in cycling, he said there was a perception that this is the “cleanest generation” and that he had previously competed in the “dirty generation.”
“And, granted, I’ll be totally honest with you, the year that I won the Tour, many of the guys that got 2nd through 10th, a lot of them are gone. Out. Caught. Positive Tests. Suspended. Whatever. … And so I can understand why people look at that and go, Well, [they] were caught — and you weren’t?” he told Vanity Fair. “So there is a nice element here where I can come with really a completely comprehensive program and there will be no way to cheat.”
I was quite surprised by this announcement considering Armstrong retired over three years ago. In terms of PR, his performance in the Tour de France will play a role in how the public views him. While most will still hold him in high regard for his Livestrong campaign and the difference his foundation has made in the fight against cancer, a poor result could taint his legacy.
Armstrong left cycling at the top of the game after winning seven consecutive TdF titles. He frequently faced doping allegations, but never tested positive. Even after retirement, he still faced speculation so I can’t say I’m surprised that part of his motivation to return is to prove that he was clean. However if he wins again, that doesn’t necessarily show that he was clean in the previous events. If he does poorly, people could use that against him saying that now that he is racing clean, he can’t perform at the same level.
All in all, it’s an interesting situation and I look forward to reading how the media treats this unusual situation. Vanity Fair already has a five page exclusive up on their website. I am a big Lance Armstrong fan. I’ve read his books. I’ve watched him win his titles. He got me interested in the sport of cycling. However, I did not watch the TdF this past summer because (1) I didn’t know any of the cyclists because the big names were all kicked out for doping and (2) I didn’t trust that I could invest all my time rooting for an athlete just to find out they were doping. However if Armstrong finds his way onto a team and in the TdF, I will go back to watching cycling every summer morning cheering on one of my favorite athletes.