Sports PR 3354

This course is an overview of the industry and the types of tasks required of a practitioner in public relations within the sports industry. This website has been prepared to help you review concepts we learn about.

Usually the text referenced here is Pederson, Laucella, Kian, Geurin (2017). Strategic Sport Communication, 2nd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, but others are noted on this page. There will be other reading provided for you in the class.
“How many of you want to develop your writing skills?”
When asked, 69% of previous students in this course replied yes to that question.

This set of data is academic based on quantitative data collected from students in this class from fall 2015 through spring 2017 (n = 283).
When asked, 100% of sport editors replied that it was the most important skill to have. This set of data is academic based on quantitative data (n = 225) as presented in this published work: Ketterer S., McGuire J., Murray, R. (2013). Contrasting desired sports journalism skills in a converged media environment. Communication & Sport.

The AP Style format for sports

Click the toggle for general descriptions of the elements required for writing AP style. AP stands for Associated Press and it's the industry standard for sport journalism, which is extremely important for sport public relations.

For help with AP style formatting questions, use this page or visit Purdue's excellent O.W.L. help site.
  • Letterhead/Logo
    An organization’s brand is critical. Releases should be on letterhead, even electronically, and the logo should be at the top.
  • Contact Information
    Members of the media may want to reach out to the organization for further information. Include contact information for the person who can most effectively field media calls and emails. In this class, that's you.
  • For Immediate Release
    A press or news release should only be sent to the media if it contains newsworthy information. This is why it’s called a news release. The words, “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” should appear of any news release.
  • Date
    Formatted like this, the date the release is being circulated appears before the lead begins:

    August 29, 2016
  • Headline
    A headline should summarize what the information in the release is about. Do NOT try to be clever. Write in the subject-verb-object format. It should be one line at most. (Some organizations include a subhead, too.)
  • Dateline --
    (Don’t blame me, I didn’t name it.)

    A dateline is the city where an event took place. The city should appear bolded and in ALL CAPS. Sometimes the city won’t require a state, sometimes it will require one. For an international city, the country is also often required. See the AP Stylebook for a list of the cities.

    The — (or two dashes) symbol should follow and then the lead (lede) begins on the same line, separated by a space after the symbol.

    Two examples: (Notice that only one of these places can be used without the state appearing after it.)

    DALLAS - -
    LUBBOCK, Texas - -
  • Lead
    Who, what, where, when and how must be answered in the lead. No, this isn’t a typo that I’ve not listed "why" for a lead about a sports contest. (For other types of leads about sports "why" will be answered, but not for a lead about a sport competition. Keep reading this page, eventually I'll tell you why we don't include the answer to the question why.)

    Writing a lead can be an extremely important skill for all of business writing. Your ability to synthesize information in a succinct, but interesting, way will help you stand out from other candidates vying for a job. Your ability to do the same when you write a business memo will be a valued skill by higher ups.

    The first paragraph, usually one sentence when well done, is the part of the release we call a lead.
  • Body
    The body, which includes the lead, is the full content of your news release. It should include a quote from at least one, preferably more, participant. For our class a news release should always fit on only one page.
  • Close symbol ###
    Before it was a hashtag, this adorable little symbol [ # ] repeated three times told the person reading it that the release was finished.

    Think of it like this: Stop. Stop. Stop. It should be centered below the body of the release.


    This is another symbol, also centered, that can be used.


    Sport organizations sometimes dandy this tradition up, such as:

    —Wreck’em— or #Wreck'em# or #GoSpursGo#

  • Boilerplate
    Boilerplate is standard information that an organization includes to describe its purpose or activities. Often in sport PR, it will describe a tradition or a history of winning, or the purpose for a particular event. The information doesn’t change very often, perhaps annually to be updated, for example. For this class, please place the boilerplate after the close symbol.

    Here is an example from a news release on the website about its Foundation:

    The Wimbledon Foundation is the community and charitable arm of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Using the heritage and resources of Wimbledon, the Wimbledon Foundation’s principal aim is to bring together and enhance in a more cohesive, coordinated and effective way the extensive programme of community, development and charitable activities currently undertaken by the All England Club and The Championships.

Writing an AP style sports lead for a sport contest

Here are the most important concepts for you to learn in this class:

Inverted Pyramid Style

This means that the most important information goes first. In sports if the result of a contest isn't noted (winning score goes first, always), the inverted pyramid style isn't being followed and this professor gets really crabby!

Remember the 4 Ws and an H

In a news-style sports lead for this class, four of the five W questions and at least a basic answer to the H question get answered, usually in one sentence.

  • W = Who - In a sports story about a competition there is nearly always two who answers: winner and loser.
  • W = What - What is the result of the competition (the score); and what are the consequences for the winner and loser; i.e. in a tournament the winner advances to … in a team sport it’s usually noting the team’s records after you name them. See the team competition example above.
  • W = When - The date and often in the lead you’ll add the day of the week just for clarity. For example, Monday night.
  • W = Where - The city where the event occurred in bold type is called the “dateline” and it occurs before you even start the sentence. Then, in the body of the lead the name of the venue should be included.
  • H = How - In the lead a simple explanation of how a competition was won should be included. In the examples below for individual and team competitions, how is answered by the words "straight sets" and; Yadier Molina lined a two-run single.

So, why don’t I ask for the answer to the question "why" in an AP style sports lead about a sport competition? Because, the answer to "why do they compete at any sports contest is always this: To see who would win.

Other leads for sport organizations, besides those which summarize sport competitions, should additionally answer the question "why" so will have the 5 Ws and an H contained therein. (See the non-competition examples on this page.)

Be brief and use clear language

The lead sentence(s) may answer the five questions in a sometimes shockingly brief answer. A lead should never be more than two sentences. The lead should not contain flowery language, unnecessary words, and, for the most part, should not include your opinion. Facts are being stated.

Use an active verb and use the correct verb tense. In a summary of a sporting event, you are ALWAYS writing in the past tense. You know the outcome because the game is over, it happened. Team A beat Team B.

The winning score should always be listed first, even if you are working for the team that lost. In sports it is ALWAYS, Team A beat Team B, 41-38. And, in reporting the score of a game or listing the ranking of a competitor or team in sports, it is acceptable to use numbers for scores or rankings. No. 1 Team A beat No. 13 Team B, 6-4. (Check AP Style manual whenever you are unsure.)

A writer of this basic style for writing in sport gets to exercise creativity and skill in two ways: 1) by using active verbs in the past tense; and 2) in describing how a contest was won, interestingly, but objectively.

"He blasted a home run" is a lot more active than "He hit a home run." Notice that both verbs are in the past tense because the home run happened; the game is over.

"She slipped the winning goal by the keeper in the final minute of action." Notice that you know the match must've been exciting because there was less than a minute on the clock; there is no need to add a superlative.

This writing is more technical than creative, but the great lead writer still makes the sentence compelling by choosing interesting action words.

HERE IS A LINK to a PDF resource for this class to help you with the very basics of AP style.

Most common types of leads for sport PR

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Now, let’s visit a bit of theory

We’ll start with these questions: What is Sport Public Relations and how is it different from Sport Marketing?

Below are definitions of each, along with a description of the most important thing that is different about the two endeavors, the publics they serve.
Sport PR Defined 
“Sport public relations is a managerial communication-based function designed to identify a sport organization’s key publics, evaluate its relationships with those publics, and foster desirable relationships between the sport organization and those publics.”

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012), Sport Public Relations, page 2.
Sport PR Publics 
“Publics may be thought of as groups of people who relate to the sport organization in similar ways. Whoever the public may be, the management team of the organization can define a realistically desirable relationship that might exist between the two parties.

  • publics (stakeholders) are groups of people
  • sport organizations have many publics that they must communicate with”

The function of PR for sport organizations is to facilitate the achievement of desirable relationships with ALL of an organization’s publics.

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012), Sport Public Relations, page 3.

The first public this class will spend time thinking about is the media. The mass media for sports. We call this function media relations.
Sport Marketing Defined 
“Sport marketing consists of all activities designed to meet the needs and wants of sport consumers through exchange processes. Sport marketing has developed two major thrusts:

  • the marketing of sport products and services directly to consumers of sport
  • the marketing of other consumer and industrial products or services through the use of sport promotions”

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012), Sport Public Relations, page 3.
Sport Marketing Public 
“Sport marketing is the organizational function that focuses on consumers:
  • identifies how the sport organization may meet the consumers’ desires
  • structures marketing programs accordingly”

The function of Marketing for sport organizations is to figure out what customers want and find ways to sell that stuff to that ONE public. You know that public by a more common name: Fans.

Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012), Sport Public Relations, page 3.
Sport Public Relations
Public relations focuses on the broader concept of relationships between an organization and a wide variety of publics. Sport PR practitioners must concern themselves with ALL publics.
Sport Marketing
The sport marketer is interested in consumers. Consumers are a public/stakeholder group critical to both functions, but the sport marketer is only interested in that ONE public.

Closer investigation

3 media relations functions

Textbooks note that sport PR practitioners spend a great deal of time performing media relations functions because the sport PR practitioner spends a great deal of time serving the mass media. What, specifically, does that mean in terms of tasks or activities that the sport PR person performs?

To begin to answer that question we'll use two words: Information and Access. That's what the mass media needs from a sports PR practitioner. They need information about our products and they'll need access to the people who can speak about those products. (We'll discuss what those products might be along the way.)

Then, there are three things we'll investigate: a PR program, a PR project and a PR campaign, using general definitions provided in Stoldt, Dittmore & Branvold (2012), Sport Public Relations, page 50.

We'll start with PR programs because the sport PR practitioner will spend about 75 - 80 percent of their time doing these things because doing the work required for a PR program is all about providing information about our sport product.

A PR program is an ongoing activity that deals with many objectives that are associated with one goal, targeted to specific publics.

Sport PR examples:
  • Update statistics after every game.
  • Write a game notes and a preview before every game.
  • Write an AP style summary of every game.
  • Prepare rosters, bio information and game-day programs.
  • Create organizational media or stuff. (This is a non-technical term that works just fine.)

A PR project is a single and usually short-lived activity designed to meet a specific objective, usually targeted to a specific public.

Sport PR project example:
  • A season-ticket holder banquet
  • A thank you letter to a specific group
  • A special event

A PR campaign is a systematic set of activities, each with a specific purpose associated with an issue. While a specific public may be a part of the campaign, the issue drives the need for a campaign more so than needing to relate to a specific public.

Sport PR Campaign example:
A Heisman Trophy campaign
Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Matter