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Top PR Challenges in Sports

With instant updates, live streaming video, and social media the world of sport management has become increasingly digital. A public relations professional is charged with maintaining the client’s image while carefully mitigating and managing any negative press.

So When does it become necessary to use damage control?

Here are some of the top PR challenges in the sports world, with some insight on how they affected athletes and their teams.

Marshawn Lynch

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The running back for the Seattle Seahawks is known for snubbing the media during scheduled interviews. His one-word answers are considered par-for-the-course, but how is this affecting his image for fans? During the 2015 Super Bowl, he told reporters “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”

Lynch is a strong player but his media persona is still developing, which can be a nightmare for a PR professional. Maybe he’ll learn some new tricks in retirement.

Alex Rodriguez

The New York Yankees highest-paid player has faced charges for using performance enhancing drugs from a health clinic called Biogenesis in 2013. Although he appealed, Rodriguez was suspended from playing for the entire 2014 season—the longest suspension in MLB history.

In 2015, he issued a formal apology for his actions, expressing regret for letting his fans down and accepting the consequences of his actions. The apology was in the form of a handwritten letter, a publicity tactic that personalized the message, in order to appeal to both fans and business leaders.

Lebron James

King James decided to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, and made the announcement on public television without warning his team. Fans and critics alike were shocked by his decision, especially considering he was such a staple in his hometown.

Since then, Lebron has returned to Cleveland, regaining the trust of fans. He also recently made a jump into film by playing a role in 2015’s Trainwreck, receiving positive reviews, further revamping his public image for the better, and making his PR agent’s life much easier.

Hope Solo

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The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team goalkeeper was arrested and charged with domestic battery against her half-sister and nephew in 2014. Although she continued to play soccer, her public image was put into question by these accusations. Shortly after the incident, she posted a formal apology for her actions. In it she acknowledges that, as an athlete, she is held to a higher standard of conduct than most people.

This statement did not clear her legal standing — the charges were dismissed in early 2015 and have since been reinstated — but it did somewhat help her fans view her as a human being who is prone to making mistakes.

Having won two gold medals in the Olympics and the Golden Glove award in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo is one of the strongest players in the world of American athletics. She is now taking a stance and contemplating skipping the Olympics in August due to an outbreak of the Zika virus. This can be seen as a noble stance by the goalie, and something that could change her image for the better.

Magic Johnson

Magic announced his HIV-positive status in 1991. As a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson raised HIV/AIDS awareness at a time when the public’s perception of the illness was still limited. By staying healthy, advocating for increased awareness, and establishing the Magic Johnson Foundation, Johnson became his own PR person in a way and went on to become one of the most successful, well-regarded figures in athletics and business.

Being A Successful PR Professional

Athletes do most of their work on the field. But when it comes to successful branding, their image is just as important as their performance. PR professionals must harness their aptitude for effective communication and work to prevent these blunders before they arise.

Interested in learning more about the intersection between public relations and sports? Click here to discover the University of Florida’s online Master of Science in Sport Management.

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