MARKET FOCUS: SPORTS PR - Corporates take the field. Sports offers huge potential for agencies, but only a handful have tapped the best of what leagues, teams and organizations have to offer

Sports PR is generally considered one of the true glamour areas within the PR industry. Why, then, can’t anybody give a quick and easy definition of exactly what it is?

Sports PR is generally considered one of the true glamour areas within the PR industry. Why, then, can’t anybody give a quick and easy definition of exactly what it is?

Sports PR is generally considered one of the true glamour areas

within the PR industry. Why, then, can’t anybody give a quick and easy

definition of exactly what it is?

’It’s kind of like asking ’what is a beautiful woman?’’ says Jack Agnew,

a partner at Agnew, Carter, McCarthy.

Dan Klores of Dan Klores Associates (DKA) is more forthcoming. ’It’s

special events, leagues, licensors and sponsors, and a lot of the time,

it’s about getting off the sports pages and onto the news pages,’ he


Peter Land, an executive VP and general manager of Edelman’s sports and

entertainment marketing group, chimes in, ’Sports PR? Sometimes it

doesn’t have anything at all to do with PR.’

On one hand, there are very obvious and coveted opportunities within the

sector: representing professional teams, leagues and manufacturers of

sports apparel. However, these opportunities are rarely open on anything

more than a project basis to the PR community. Most of the sports

leagues have highly evolved communications operations, and few, if any,

teams boast a sizeable communications staff.

For example, Rich Dalrymple, who directs public relations for the NFL’s

Dallas Cowboys, is as recognizable a name to sports fans as the names of

half the team’s players. Why, you ask? The team has had its share of

off-the-field problems, which has put Dalrymple and his all-too-frequent

crisis communications efforts in the spotlight.

That said, one thing is for certain: the sports PR sector boasts huge

potential for those firms with the savvy to tap into it. This conclusion

is borne out by the numbers: seven firms nudged into the seven-figure

range in sports PR income for 1998, and this doesn’t take into account

several prominent sports practitioners, including Atlanta-based

Hope-Beckham and Burson-Marsteller, who did not submit numbers for this


Several firms saw exponential growth in their sports groups in 1998.

Public Communications, whose clients include the Chicago Bulls and White

Sox, saw income rise 136%, while BSMG was up 121% (some of which,

admittedly, can be attributed to the agency’s acquisition spree).

Of the smaller firms in PRWeek’s top 30, Florida-based O’Connell &

Goldberg more than tripled its PR income, perhaps owing to the top-notch

job the agency did promoting January’s Super Bowl for the South Florida

host committee.

Still, the combined sports sum of the top five agencies barely exceeds

dollars 20 million, which places sports way behind just about every

so-called ’sexy’ practice area. Does this mean that practitioners aren’t

making the most out of the opportunities afforded them? Absolutely not.

’To an extent, the industry has reached a point of saturation, and

cutting through the clutter is tough,’ says Cone executive VP Dave Nobs.

’But sports marketing is one of the few vehicles into which you can wrap

almost anything for a client - corporate image, product visibility, you

name it.’

Alan Taylor puts the appeal of sports PR in more basic terms: ’Sports

are capable of transcending the audience. It cuts across all ages,

genders and ethnic groups. It’s a natural area for companies to be

involved in.’

That, it seems, is sports PR’s dirty secret: that the practice area is

fueled not by teams or leagues, but by corporations. Any casual observer

of sports can’t help but notice the extent to which corporate America

has encroached on the sports landscape. The San Francisco Giants and

49ers no longer play at Candlestick Park, they play at 3Com Park;

viewers no longer see a simple highlight clip, they see the Propecia

’hair-raising play’ of the game.

The best opportunities in the sports sector, then, are in helping

corporations leverage their big-bucks sponsorships through PR programs.

In the past, companies had simply paid money to have their name attached

to a game or event, whether a highly visible one like the Masters golf

tournament or a local stop on the men’s or women’s tennis tours. Some

sponsorships proved incredibly successful - while Virginia Slims has not

been affiliated with the Women’s Tennis Association for years, many

people still believe the Philip Morris brand is the title sponsor of the

women’s tour.

However, few sponsorship agreements prove this successful, which is why

PR firms have been brought in to do what Cohn & Wolfe vice chairman John

Frew calls ’extending the value of a sponsorship.’ This consists of

everything from staging events to promoting the arrangement through

direct mail.

Companies have slowly but surely come around to understanding the role

PR can play in supporting a sponsorship agreement.

’A few companies are still just ponying up money to become involved with

Nascar or a local event,’ says BSMG group manager Thor Harris. ’Getting

the sponsorship is only half the battle. You have to promote it.’ Adds

DKA partner Peter Seligman, ’If you’re going to spend dollars 10 million

or more to be the official beverage of the NBA, you better have PR

behind it - whether a sweepstakes, or whatever - to let people know

you’re spending the money.’

A good example of a company that has played this game well is Gillette,

which was one of the NCAA’s first corporate partners. Six years ago,

Gillette decided to promote this relationship by starting a contest in

which a fan would take a three-point shot for dollars 1 million before a

national TV audience. It proved such a smash with fans that Gillette

extended the promotion to include a million-dollar putt, and others

copied it unashamedly.

There is, however, a downside to providing PR in support of

sponsorships, as the media is often hesitant to acknowledge a corporate

presence. ’If you pick up the paper on January 2, you don’t know whether

you’ll be reading about the Orange Bowl or the FedEx Orange Bowl. It can

be pretty frustrating for the client,’ says Taylor.

Another highly coveted assignment that invariably has a corporate

element is representing a new sports facility. Not only do these

projects involve a wide range of audiences - local communities, the

government, teams, entertainers and fans - but the corporate element

often places an agency before the prized C-level audience.

In recent years, corporations have been lining up to attach their name

to sports facilities - a building like New York’s Madison Square Garden

maintaining a non-corporate name is becoming a rarity in this era of


For example, Continental Airlines Arena was formerly the Brendan Byrne

Arena, in honor of the New Jersey governor who helped get it built, and

Boston’s Fleet Center, which replaced the cherished Boston Garden.

Of course, there are potential drawbacks. Last month, it became evident

just how major a crisis component a stadium PR account could have when

three workers died in a construction accident on the site of the

Milwaukee Brewers’ new Miller Park. The Brewers’ response - canceling a

game and expressing their regrets, but also talking about how the

stadium will still open on time - struck many people as wildly

insensitive, and left PR pros wondering if somebody had fallen asleep at

the switch.

As for the future, nearly every party surveyed for this story is very

bullish on the continued health of sports PR. Women’s sports seems the

next boom area, especially in light of the success - both on the field

and as an off-the-field marketing juggernaut - of the US women’s soccer

team. Most sports PR players also expect corporations, especially

Internet companies flush with cash, to increase the number and size of

their sponsorship programs, which will correspondingly increase the

market for PR. ’Just look at the media that covers sports,’ says Jim

Tsokanos, VP of Ketchum Sports. ’There’s eight full-time sports

channels, syndicated programs, tons of web sites. If you can’t find

opportunity here, you’ve got a problem.’

One thing is for certain:

the denizens of corporate America are more aware than ever that PR is a

big part of the sports marketing equation. ’Management, ownership and

companies see that they can’t do everything by themselves anymore,’ says

Brotman Winter Fried Communications founder Charlie Brotman. ’It used to

be, ’We’ve got the only game in town, people will come.’ Now, they

realize just how good we are.’


RANK        COMPANY                                Sports Income       %

98    97                                         1998       1997  Change

1     1     Ketchum                         6,500,000  3,500,000      86

2     N/A   Edelman PR                      5,300,000        N/A     N/A

3     2     Alan Taylor Communications      3,610,996  3,202,037      13

4     3     Cohn & Wolfe                    3,100,000  2,500,000      24

5     N/A   Porter Novelli                  2,651,956        N/A     N/A

6     N/A   Dan Klores Associates           1,803,666        N/A     N/A

7     4     Cone                            1,300,000    900,000      44

8     5     Brotman Winter Fried

            Communications                    721,875    713,125       1

9     8     BSMG                              680,000    307,000     121

10    N/A   Cramer-Krasselt                   553,500          0     N/A

11    6     Golin/Harris Intl                 500,000    700,000     -29

12    7     Agnew, Carter, McCarthy           500,000    500,000       0

13    N/A   The Rasky/Baerlein Group          500,000          0     N/A

14    11    Public Communications             311,000    132,000     136

15    N/A   Martin Public Relations           300,000          0     N/A

16    9     Charlston / Orwig                 200,000    200,000       0

17    N/A   Bragman Nyman Cafarelli LLC       200,000          0     N/A

18    N/A   Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence           195,863        N/A     N/A

19    N/A   Barkley Evergreen & Partners      164,853          0     N/A

20    10    Ackerman Public

            Relations & Marketing             160,381    159,465       1

21    14    Trahan, Burden & Charles PR       151,000     52,000     190

22    N/A   PRX                               100,000          0     N/A

23    N/A   Shandwick International            95,000        N/A     N/A

24    17    O’Connell & Goldberg               80,000     25,000     220

25    13    Paine & Associates                 78,829     70,558      12

26    N/A   Vollmer Public Relations           70,000          0     N/A

27    15    Gish, Sherwood PR                  55,000     43,000      28

28    16    The Headline Group                 41,000     32,600      26

29    12    Eric Mower and Associates          40,600     71,794     -43

30    N/A   Levenson Public Relations          30,000          0     N/A

RANK      COMPANY                       1998 Income          1997 Income

98   97                             Total US      %     Total US      %

                                             Sports               Sports

1    1    Ketchum                101,485,000      6   78,769,000       4

2    N/A  Edelman PR             101,868,218      5   86,833,594     N/A

3    2    Alan Taylor

          Communications           3,801,049     95    3,370,566      95

4    3    Cohn & Wolfe            25,981,976     12   21,533,360      12

5    N/A  Porter Novelli          85,235,570      3   66,594,342     N/A

6    N/A  Dan Klores Associates   10,393,000     17    9,027,000     N/A

7    4    Cone                     6,312,000     21    5,785,000      16

8    5    Brotman Winter Fried

          Communications           4,125,000     18    4,075,000      18

9    8    BSMG                   109,537,000      1   58,136,000       1

10   N/A  Cramer-Krasselt          8,160,000      7    6,115,000       0

11   6    Golin/Harris Intl       48,612,000      1   47,327,000       1

12   7    Agnew, Carter, McCarthy  3,656,451     14    3,040,946      16

13   N/A  The Rasky/Baerlein

          Group                    4,068,786     12    2,458,766       0

14   11   Public Communications    5,699,252      5    4,316,357       3

15   N/A  Martin Public Relations  4,816,246      6    3,772,008       0

16   9    Charlston / Orwig        2,383,963      8    1,449,391      14

17   N/A  Bragman Nyman

          Cafarelli LLC            5,221,858      4    3,459,150       0

18   N/A  Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence  5,849,000      3    5,599,324     N/A

19   N/A  Barkley Evergreen &

          Partners                 2,305,285      7    2,302,000       0

20   10   Ackerman Public

          Relations & Marketing    2,129,481      8    2,029,332       8

21   14   Trahan, Burden &

          Charles PR               1,208,332     12    1,039,910       5

22   N/A  PRX                      2,300,726      4    2,067,870       0

23   N/A  Shandwick Intl          91,485,000   0.10   80,292,000     N/A

24   17   O’Connell & Goldberg       844,392      9      744,728       3

25   13   Paine & Associates       3,588,698      2    3,899,772       2

26   N/A  Vollmer Public Relations 3,400,000      2    2,300,000       0

27   15   Gish, Sherwood PR          345,794     16      177,289      24

28   16   The Headline Group       1,846,473      2    1,572,665       2

29   12   Eric Mower and Assoc     2,030,022      2    1,794,858       4

30   N/A  Levenson Public Relations  988,431      3      662,793       0

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