Wins in the Euro 2008, Wimbledon and now for Carlos Sastre in this year’s Tour de France have given journalists a hook in terms of a Spanish golden era of sport. But much of the coverage this year’s arduous cycle race has been about drug doping – which, despite high profile success in positive testing, withdrawal of teams and outraged sponsors, doesn’t seem to be declining.
Scottish rider, David Millar, who was banned for 2 years, believes more a more media friendly approach might be the answer. So could open PR be the key to a clean Tour de France?
There has been little academic research in respect of PR and sports. Despite the high level of public and media interest, PR in this sector seems to be mainly used for promotional purposes, dominated by ex-sports journalists – well, that’s a view based on supervising several dissertations on sports topics for final year PR degree students.
It is perhaps not surprising that sports PR focuses has a marketing orientation since like many iconic sporting events, the Tour was conceived in 1903 by two journalists promoting a newspaper (l’Auto) with the support of the bicycle industry.
Sports may have played a role in advancing media coverage, as French academic Fabien Wille claimed for the Tour de France; whilst Olympic president Jacques Rogge states the media spotlight has had a positive effect on China.
Arguably what the media is seeking from covering sport is greater openness. For the specialists, that means getting close to the main players to secure exclusives, unique insights and enough material for 24:7 coverage where citizen journalism is also offering up views and news online. This is the approach that Millar believes is vital to improve the Tour’s image. His team, Garmin Chipotle, has ’embedded’ journalists in the team. This approach also impresses and benefits sponsors, who need to assess the return on investment of their millions.
Such openness requires more than a press agentry approach to PR as it relies on trust and strong relationships rather than seeking control and spouting the company message. It carries a risk as things can go wrong, but there is much greater kudos in being able to show how profesionals handle emerging issues. The public, and the media, are impressed by an honest and realistic approach.
I hope Millar is right and more teams will develop relationships with journalists rather than seeing them as the enemy. I’ve seen a lot of undergraduates keen to develop their careers in sports PR and none has been looking to practice the traditional spin and control approach.
There’s a need for more professional PR practitioners in sports (rather than former hacks) with an ever greater need to build valuable relationships with the media, and a higher profile making crisis management skills essential. I’d also like to see the academic spotlight turned more on PR practice in sports, to assess whether the old ways should be replaced by greater opennesss – and if so, to highlight case studies and models for doing so.