Today concludes our week-long Sports Blogging 101 Series by discussing how to create a blogger policy. Now when someone refers to “blogger policy,” they can be referring to one of two types of policies:
- A policy about how your organization reaches out to bloggers (pitches, sending out press releases, leaving blog comments, etc.)
- A policy that determines the credentialing process for bloggers
I pointed out an example for the first type back in my post about how to pitch to sports bloggers. It’s Ogilvy PR’s blogger outreach code of ethics post and I definitely recommend that you give it a read. But I want to focus today’s post on the second type of policy listed above.
Here’s a rough guideline on how to go about developing a blogger policy:
1. Look at your organization’s media coverage situation.
How many beat reporters does your team have who are writing almost daily? How often do national publications cover your organization? Do you have a full press box every home game? Are online outlets providing more coverage than what you’re getting in print publications? Do you have statistics showing you where most of your fans go to get news about the team?
2. Analyze the bloggers covering your organization.
How many are there? You can use my how to monitor blogs post to learn how to find these blogs if you are not already aware of them. I would also suggest trying to see how many blogs that cover general league news frequently talk about your team as they may be relevant to your policy as well.
What types of blogs cover your team? As I’ve mentioned before, there are three types of sports blogs in my opinion.
The first kind is newsy, journalist-like. They report news, follow a more factual bent, offer opinions on the subject, but don’t rock the boat.
The second type of sports blog is all about humor. They tend to be very popular blogs written in a snarky, witty prose. These types of bloggers are less likely to want credentials, but you can’t rule them out. While the bloggers may be professional bloggers in the sense that they make enough money to support themselves, they may not have a professional style of writing that would be ideal for your organization.
Finally, the third type of sports blogger is all about opinion — think of them like you would a sports columnist for a paper. They write in a more professional tone, but it’s heavy opinion and they will voice their thoughts whether it’s positive or not about your organization.
How many readers do these different blogs have? A blog may qualify as the first category of blogs listed above, but if it only gets 50 readers a day it might change how you’ll approach the blog. If there is a really popular blog that gets thousands or hundreds of thousands of readers per day but tends to be snarky in their writing, you still may be willing to overlook their writing style because of their online reach.
How involved and vocal are their readers? A blog that has its share of comments on every post shows an engaged community. Those are the types of blogs you want to reach because even if they aren’t the most popular blog out there, what they say will really have an impact on their readers.
3. Determine which of the three categories your team falls into: (1) your press box is packed every night and you have no problem getting coverage both locally and nationally; (2) your press box is usually full, you have a handful of reliable beat reporters, and you get the occasional national story; or (3) your press box always has empty seats, you’re down to two beat reporters or less, and you aren’t getting the local or national coverage you want.
There is no blanket policy that every sports team can hold, much less every team in a single league. You’ll always have a bottom-feeding organization that won’t get the type of coverage that the dynasty will garner or a small media market versus a large media market. As such, you will have to go about developing a blogger policy differently.
4. Based on the first three points, decide if you have room and/or need to credential bloggers for practices, games, and/or other media events.
If your organization falls into Category #1, you simply cannot credential bloggers for games as there is just not enough room for them in the press box. If you have no shortage of media coverage, you then may also decide to not credential bloggers for games or other media events like press conferences because it would just make it more crowded for the media members already covering your team.
For teams under Category #2, you may not be able to give bloggers a season credential. However, you could hand out game passes for games when it appears there will be some empty seats in the press box. If you want more national coverage, be sure to invite a blogger who runs a popular general league blog who will have more of a widespread audience. In this scenario, you may also want to invite qualified bloggers to practices throughout the season and even other media events like charity functions and development camps.
Organizations that fall under Category #3 will be more willing to credential qualified bloggers for an entire season, invite them to practices, and encourage their participation at development camps and other media events. Your team needs more coverage and since the print media isn’t providing the coverage that you and your fans want, you’ll have to turn to online outlets including well-known blogs and team websites.
In addition, you’ll need to decide if a credential means they get full press access or if it’s limited like what the NY Islanders did with their Blog Box. In this case, the bloggers sat in a different section apart from the press box but still had access to coaches and players following the game.
5. Decide if you want to send press releases to all bloggers who have inquired about credentials or access. Determine if bloggers who do not receive credentials will be allowed to participate in media conference calls.
I tend to hold a more liberal view in terms of PR and sports bloggers so I have the belief that most team bloggers should be sent press releases and game notes. I’m not saying every blogger deserves to be on that e-mail list or that they should all get credentials — far from it. I just think that it doesn’t hurt to have more outlets spreading information whether it’s a change in game times, the announcement of a charity event or autograph signing, or a new signing. But it’s up to your staff to decide if you want to add any bloggers to your release e-mail list or if that will remain for print media only.
You’ll also need to decide if any bloggers will be able to listen in on press conference calls. If you’re willing to invite bloggers to practice and/or some games, you’ll probably be willing to invite them on these calls. But if you already find practices and these calls overcrowded, you’ll likely decide to keep bloggers out.
It’s also important to note that most bloggers do what they do as a hobby. As a result, they likely have another job that keeps them busy. They may not be able to attend every game or practice. Some may not even want to attend everything, but would like to generate exclusive content for their website in a few games each season. I think game-by-game credentials are much more reasonable and likely for bloggers outside of the few exceptions.
6. Determine what makes a blogger qualified for a credential or to get on the media e-mail list.
Each organization will have a different opinion of what makes a blogger qualified. In fact, your team could have different levels for bloggers. A well-known and respected blogger may be labeled as the Gold Level — they get credentials to games and practices, receive press releases, and can participate on calls. Each consequent level will have less access and lower qualifications.
Eric McErlain, a blogger at Off Wing Opinion, worked with the Washington Capitals to draft a blogger policy. In it, they came up with certain standards that bloggers would have to abide by in order to receive any kind of credentials.
For example, they asked that online outlets to have been in operation for at least 3-6 months. Your team could have a longer time frame in mind.
Bloggers also had to submit traffic information and while that wasn’t the sole factor in their PR staff’s decision, it certainly is an important one to consider. You could set a minimum traffic base before they can receive a credential or simply go case-by-case.
The SportsJournalists.com forum debated over McErlain’s guidelines and you can see what some thought the qualifications should be for another view. As some of the forum members point out, it’s important to determine if a blogger would actually generate content because of the press pass or if they would just use it as a free ticket to the game. If it’s the latter, that’s not someone you want to give a credential to anyways.
You now have a blogger policy!
Now that you have a policy, you need to figure out what materials you want to send to bloggers before they attend their first practice or game as a member of the media. Will you hand them a packet that describes the basic protocol (e.g. no cheering in the press box, how post-game locker room media visits are handled, how to submit an interview request, etc.)? You could also include a journalism ethics packet or something to encourage ethical coverage of the team if that’s a concern of your’s.
Some other blog posts/articles about this topic:
Everyone is Now the Sports Media (MediaPost)
Blogs offer instant, irreverent analysis of the sports world (Palm Beach Post)
Newspapers are dying, and baseball fans are suffering (ESPN.com)
Should bloggers get a seat in the press box? (Sports Business Journal)
Bloggers deserve entry to press box (Sports Business Journal)
Tension Over Sports Blogging (The New York Times)
It’s Not the Oilers Against the Bloggers (Edmonton Journal)
Sports bloggers believe attitude, approach set them apart (Penn State University)
Blogging Presents Challenge for Sport Organizations, Dittmore Finds (University of Arkansas)