The game behind the game

Five time Olympic medalist and American gymnast, Mary Lou Retton, rightly said long ago, “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever”.

Very few would have understood the worth of those words then, as Sports PR was still germinating in the international arena. The United States of America, the home to most of the global sporting developments, be it sponsorships, innovations or image building and publicity, was the first to adapt to this intangible method of value creation and brand building process through humans’ and sports.

And ever since they have only excelled in the world of sports, along with their European counterparts, and never looked back. The English Premier League, NBA League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and National Football League are examples of how the right publicity can create legends and make a sport and league enviably popular globally and nationally.

The life of a sports PR professional is quite a roller coaster ride. While the world around think that they are living a glamorous and phenomenal life, in reality they play a game against unseen and uncalled odds, behind the curtains on an invisible ground, against a team of a billion eyes who are ready to pounce on his client, ‘The Athlete’ at any time to either pull him down or make him a legend. The game behind the curtains may not leave bruises externally, but it is lethal enough to leave scars for a lifetime.

Sports in India have grown to colossal scales over the past few years. The consistent success of the Indian cricket team led to a lot of popularity for the sport in the country and to the birth of one of the richest leagues in the world, after NBA and the English Premier League, the Indian Premier League.

This has paved the path for many firsts in the Indian sporting industry, starting with the money and glamour through sponsorships. All this was rightly supported by a strategic publicity drive that made unknown youngsters overnight superstars and poster boys, and that is when suddenly India woke up to a whole new revolution in sports.

Ever since we have witnessed a surge of sporting leagues across all divides. Offbeat sports such as Kabaddi and Golf have caught the public eye as it has been played in a league format. While some lived a short life, a few did manage to survive, thanks to the right publicity and investments. The recently concluded Pro Kabaddi League is one such example of what the right publicity can do to a sport, while at the same time the ongoing Indian Super League has already created a lot of hope for Indian football.

Public relations for sports is very different from public relations in general. The end objectives are similar; however the means to these objectives are completely different in nature. A major part of a sports PR professional remit is to read and analyse the psyche of his athlete or team and accordingly utilise them to garner publicity. An athlete is an emotional person who has mood swings according to their performances or forms and an intelligent sports PR professional needs to gauge these mood swings with ease, or else a publicity campaign can go haywire.

A public relations professional in the sports industry also plays a crucial role of ensuring and maintaining a positive image for his clients. Every part of the sports industry depends heavily on image and how the public and fans view it. Examples of public relations’ importance to the sports arena include incidents such as those with the legendary boxer Mike Tyson and former world no1 golfer Tiger Woods. Irresponsible actions from both athletes proved the requirement for public relations in the sports world. Without it both the athletes’ careers would have been jeopardised, and it would have cost them heavily, losing all the fan following which they had garnered over the years.

It’s an integral part of a sports PR professional’s job to safeguard the interest of his client in the public as if it were his own image. It is also important that the PRO is equally passionate about the sport the client is involved in, as well having a sound knowledge on various technical aspects of it too. Most of the times a sports PR professional plays a quarter role of a journalist creating and suggesting story ideas to the sports reporters and editors.

Crisis in sports is an everyday ball game, and each day brings forward a new challenge. For every headline that you read, positive or negative, somewhere there is a PR professional working hard enough to either safeguard their athletes’ interests or giving a boost to his image for the fans.

In order to succeed in this field, one must have proficient writing and communication skills as well as have a sound knowledge and deep interest in sports. It is critical to be an ardent sports lover to sustain ones self in this industry. At times the industry is unforgiving and is highly taxing and stressful and that is when passion plays the role of the pain killer and gives you the strength to keep it going.

Abhoy Chattopadhyay leads the sport vertical at WordsWork. Abhoy has worked with leading sports stars and brands including NBA India, Premier Hockey League, Abhinav Bindra, and Narain Karthikeyan.

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