Why Sports PR pros in India aced the Rio Olympics

For the professionals at WordsWork Communications Consulting, Rio, was a very special Olympics. Tasked by ‘Hockey India’ to provide national level PR for the men and women hockey teams in March this year, the firm had its hands full way before the Olympics started.

Apart from daily releases, regular media briefings were held twice a week from April right until July at SAI Bengaluru at the Olympic training camp. These regular visits were used to plan larger format stories - off field features, interviews with different player.

Come the announcement of the hockey squad, the results were there to see. Neha Mathur Rastogi, founder of WordsWork Communications Consulting says that, “The Olympic squad announcement itself garnered a lot of media attention with an unprecedented media turn out of over 200! Another gesture much appreciated by media was the personalized hockey jerseys we distributed to all media travelling from India to Rio.”

Once the Olympics began, WordsWork intensified their gameplay. Says Rastogi, “We had an effective live communication channel, provided by ‘Hockey India’, via simple WhatsApp groups created for each team. The coaches and sub coaches via these groups could give us real time feedback and images from behind the scenes. These were used effectively to garner coverage beyond sports pages in lifestyle media. The team meeting global sporting legends, taking selfies with the iconic Olympic rings all turned out to be attractive for the media. During matches, our content writer would be watching the match live, while we would receive real time high resolution images from our photo team in Rio. The entire press release, rankings and images post-match would be approved within minutes by the client and disseminated within an hour of each matches conclusion to pan India media.”

The impact? Over 8000 press clippings from the Olympics alone as well as hundreds of player and team profile stories.  

India emerged as one of the top 5 countries world-wide covering hockey for the Olympics.

Sports audiences in India are growing

India is usually regarded as a country that cannot look beyond cricket. But recently, sports loving audiences in India are saturated with too much cricket, thank to IPL in part and are looking at other options.

65.5 million Indians tuned in to watch PV Sindhu’s  Badminton singles final match at the Rio Olympics, 2016. This is more than the viewership ( 50 million) of popular shows like ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’. Source : Zapr

Abhoy Chattopadhyay, VP, Absolute Sports Pvt Ltd. – an integrated communication consultancy for sports explains saying, “This is the first time that the Olympics have seen themselves being spoken about extensively across all mediums continuously and outside the sports pages as well. Thanks to the numerous non cricket leagues a sudden interest has grown amongst the public about non cricket sports. A series of good performances by Indian athletes globally in certain sports have been the aggregator for an increased interest this year.”

“Once the fans -the most critical factor for the growth of sport and future athletes-start following a sport or an event the media also start writing more.”
  Abhoy Chattopadhyay

Adds Abhoy, “Also the government has slowly started concentrating on investing in sports through schemes such as the TOP scheme. Some additional factors like the largest ever contingent from India along with a few high profile sporting and non-sporting celebrities as brand ambassadors also can be considered as a potent cause for an increased eyeball.”

The growth of sports PR in India

The sports industry in India is deepening. According to this article by ‘Neilson Sports’, from 2013 as many as five sports leagues have launched city based franchises including hockey, tennis, football and kabaddi. For these to grow, develop their own fan base and heroes requires sustained PR, supported by corporate sponsors that have a long term vision for sports.

At a Twitter conference organized by GB-M’s The Outstanding Speaker’s Bureau, this week; Viswanathan Anand, Indian Chess Grandmaster & World Chess Champion,had this to say about succeeding at the Olympics.

In this scenario, deep understanding of the nature of athletes is required.

Neha says that, “ In terms of PR for athletes the one thing we must always be careful of is respecting boundaries. At the end of the day the most important aspect for them is training and playing to their best ability. Any PR activity can never come in the way. So with the limited time that we get –we need to maximize our output. Also we must bear in mind the individual personality of the athlete. Not all athletes would be comfortable with a live interview for example.”

Indian women’s hockey squad in Rio

The challenge for sports PR in India is to make sponsors tie in with a long term vision for the sport they invest in and leverage that for their brand.

Abhoy points to global examples, saying that, “Globally the sports media gives a lot of weightage to corporate sponsorships, but again one of the key reasons is because internationally these sponsors contribute to the respective sports year long, and are not just event specific. In India there probably are a very few brands who have nurtured sports, the most notable being Hero MotoCorp.”

Abhoy advises that in order to leverage sports events, “It would be wrong for sponsors to expect a sports article to only have them being spoken about, rather what sponsors could look at is create various activation platforms within an event to ensure some mention of them in the news reports on the sports pages specific to activations. We could look at F1 races where apart from the race these car manufacturers get their drivers to launch products and that’s diligently covered across news mediums. Sponsors in India do not generally do such events except for some rare occasions and for whatever little that has happened, the media has duly covered these events, if not extensively but in bits and pieces. “

At the moment, sports PR clients come from the stakeholders primarily, the sports federations topping the list, then there are brands and Individual athletes and of course the new sporting leagues that exist today in India.

In order for sports PR to truly take off, Abhoy flags off , “A specialized and long-term approach can only help in this growing, coupled with the performance of our sportspersons on the global platforms. The more the consumption of sports, the more will be the investment from brands and that would only help us in finding more clients to work on and grow in the future.”

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.