Digital & Social Media

The Three Pillars of a Winning Sports PR Playbook


Athletes, coaches and owners. Sponsors. Passionate fan bases. Managing PR in the sports world requires a unique approach. To find success – and avoid the many potential pitfalls – it’s important to build an approach on three pillars: 1) building the business, 2) protecting the brand and 3) connecting with fans.

Building the Business

Given the high volume of inbound media requests and social followers, many sports brands focus on managing and servicing existing communities – and often overlook this pillar. However, a strategic integrated communications approach will start with business objectives and build a media and content strategy that maps directly to achieving those objectives.

Protecting the Brand

There’s a nearly endless list of negative scenarios that can put sports brands at risk: athlete/ owner/staff misconduct, venue-related injuries, data and privacy breaches, equipment malfunctions and more. And these come to light within seconds thanks to social media. To prepare, brands should create – and consistently refresh – the following:

  • Issues playbook: A comprehensive document outlining every possible risk scenario along with a holding statement, escalation protocols and key response considerations.
  • Social media response matrix: A detailed playbook for identifying and handling issues-related questions and attacks on a sports brand’s social media channels.
  • Dark site: An alternate version of the brand’s home page that can be deployed at times of crisis to ensure appropriate sensitivity.
  • Media and social media training: All key spokespeople should be guided through and regularly refreshed on key messages and best practices.

Connecting With Fans

This is where sports brands typically excel, often outpacing other industries. Fan bases are loyal and happy to engage, meaning they can be great ambassadors for an organization. But as brands build strategies to connect with fans in a relevant way, they should keep the following in mind:

  • Brand voice, traits and persona: It’s common for a sports brand to use more than one person to manage its social communities, so a consistent, well-defined brand voice ensures fans get a seamless experience and helps the brand define appropriate parameters for social content and conversation.
  • The fan journey: Sports provides more opportunities to join conversations than perhaps any other community – with an endless stream of trending topics, hashtags, memes and GIFs. One thing that often gets lost in those entertaining discussions, however, is the fan journey. While it might be tempting to join all of the conversations, ultimately the brand exists to create experiences for fans. So if a conversation isn’t guiding fans on a journey that leads them somewhere beneficial, it might be best to skip joining.
  • Brand reputation: Just as it’s important to skip certain conversations, sports brands also must be aware of the conversations it does join. There’s a high volume of (often passionate) conversation on sports brands’ channels, so it’s easy to be pulled into discussions that ultimately won’t reflect well on the brand. Whether it’s a customer service issue, a fan upset about team performance or even teams sparring with one another, it’s critical to take a step back and consider how the dialogue will be perceived.