Crisis communications in sport

Three rules to handle crisis situations in sport

Sport publicity is much less controllable than paid advertising or sales campaigns. It occurs through media coverage, which is usually positive in sport. But, media interest becomes more problematic in crises and scandals. Sport is a combination of public interest and extensive media coverage. There is no industry that sees a more disproportionate share of media attention than sports. This means that a sport organisation cannot ignore the news media when a crisis occurs.

A crisis can be defined as ‘an extraordinary disruption of standard operations that threatens the safety, reputation and success of an organisation or individual’. Crises in sport can be anything, from a disastrous crash to a coach being fired. One thing crises have in common: they can arise at all times. This doesn’t mean that sports organisations have no control over how their organisation, athletes or sport are represented. The interdependence between sport journalists and PR people actually offers a possibility to control what becomes sports news and how it is reported.

Golden rules
The main lesson is to be quick, accurate and consistent. Speed is vital to avoid flows of misinformation, as every sound bite, interview, or press conference will be available for replay on YouTube. In order to limit the damage of a crisis, a sport organisation should draw upon the following three rules:

1. Always stick to the facts

2. Assign one person for contact with the press

3. Stay neutral and put emotions aside

A consistent message, delivered by one spokesperson, supports believability. Lack of command and planning can result in inaccurate or incomplete messages, which will add to the damage of the crisis. When communicating about the facts, it is important to be open and truthful. Cover-up stories make a crisis persist.

Failed strategies
Crisis communications in sport is reactive, rather than proactive. A crisis is always unplanned and may negatively influence public attitudes. Many sports officials simply ‘stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing’ rather than using strategic communication plans. This may result in failed strategies when a crisis occurs. Failed strategies are for example:

1. Go silent

2. Denial

3. Provocation

4. Scapegoating

5. Attacking the accuser

When a crisis strikes, be prepared to communicate quickly, accurately and consistently. Need help in your strategic sport communications? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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