Opinion: Leader - Sports bodies face tough PR challenge

It being the height of the summer sporting season, thoughts turn to how the various sporting bodies currently in the media spotlight can use PR to enhance their appeal throughout the year. The contrast between the success of the national game, football, at achieving this, and the failure of tennis to do the same, is striking.

At the time of writing, eternal runner-up Tim Henman is shortly to step out on to Centre Court in his quarter-final match. Since an erring Swiss referee stole all hopes of sporting advancement from England at Euro 2004, the wish must now be that Henman carries forward the fight for national pride.

And, up to a point, it genuinely matters how well role models such as Henman do. There is evidence that the success of the national Rugby Union team in last year's World Cup provided at least a temporary boost to the numbers of those taking part in the sport and the amount of time each spent doing it.

That said, to draw a clear link between the success of sporting icons and the ease of enjoining others in the pastime is unreliable. British club football teams have proved, with the exception of Manchester United's 1998-1999 squad, unsuccessful in Europe's premier club football competition, the Champions' League. Has this stopped that tournament from becoming an epic ratings and commercial success for the clubs and broadcasters and an inspiration to the next generation to get out there and kick a ball about? Not at all.

It is, though, worth restating why more people should take up these sports.

The aim has to be to target those who currently do not do any exercise at all.

In the context of the current obesity debate, that is a laudable aim.

But it is tough, and will require both traditional consumer PR techniques and more long-term B2B strategies to co-opt opinion formers and organisations into convincing the ultimate target audience to pick up a racket.

There is a massive challenge looming, but the same could be said of whichever player awaits Henman in the semi-final.

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