Officiating Sports: A Lot Like PR

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Scott Reffing footballAbout two months before the high school football season begins, the officials start their pre-season work.  It’s all about rule book studying, mechanics improvements and other subtleties to help manage the high-profile sporting events.  It reminds me of developing a thorough PR plan.

I was asked recently if there are any similarities between officiating sports and the PR world.

Great question and yes, there are:

Media Relations –Just as we want to make sure the broadcast media pronounce our clients names and businesses correctly and that the flow of information to our target audiences is as smooth as possible, so, too, it is important  that the in-stadium announcer and broadcast team can pronounce the names of the officials, that the on-field producer communicates with the referee when the broadcast has returned from commercial breaks,  both in-stadium and external broadcast crews make sure that the referee’s microphone is in proper working order.  Also, discussions with in-stadium scoreboard and clock operators to confirm their competence and understanding of the officials’ signals is right in line with making sure our spokespeople know their key messages and talking points.

Crisis Communication – Live sporting events, particularly football games, create an energy-charged, highly-emotional environment for those involved, often putting coaches and players in what they perceive to be crisis situations.  Remaining calm and providing them with answers to appropriate questions can help derail an escalating situation or avert any unnecessary volatility. And any PR person who’s dealt with a crisis knows that their calming presence can make all the difference.

Special Event Management – A sporting event, like all special events, has a timeline that must be adhered to. Pre-game and half-time schedules must be timed appropriately.  For example, the band must complete the national anthem on time, allowing both teams to take the field with enough time so the coin-toss can be conducted so the game can start on-time.  The same with half-time activities. This is especially true if the game is going to be broadcast on radio or TV as the stations have designated time in their schedule to air the program.  There are also other considerations that must be addressed, including communication channels with game site management, security and any governing body that needs to be kept updated.

Internal Communication – Your internal audience can’t be ignored in the communication channel. Pre-game conversations with the officiating crew to ensure that each member knows his roles and responsibilities on each play is no different than making sure your account services team members knows their roles and responsibilities at the office.  Conversations, along withboth verbal and visual signals between plays (or your team)  maintain seamless and ongoing communication throughout the contest.

Public Affairs – Taking input from the various interested parties, such as band directors, athletic directors, coaches and captains, creates a common theme of integrity, sportsmanship and competition that is beneficial and rewarding to everyone participating, including those in attendance and those in the surrounding community. Oftentimes, as PR practitioners, we have to gauge public opinion and seek out the views of those most impacted by our clients’ projects.

Community Relations – Officiating any sport can be seen as a way to give-back to that particular sport.  Demonstrating professionalism through both appearance and performance are key to being a steward of the game.  An important part of a successful PR strategy should include an element of “doing good while doing well.”

It does appear that officials earn their PR stripes in each and every game.

Scott Hanson
Scott Hanson
President Scott is president of HMA Public Relations and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. He’s a Phoenix native, husband, father of two and a fan of all sports and a participant in some. Check out Scott's full bio

1 Comment

  1. Great blog post, Scott. I like your business – and sports – philosophy: “Doing good while doing well.” Cheers, David Landis, LCI, San Francisco

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