Developing a Media Policy
Sport organizations command a high level of media attention, so sport managers should consider developing a media policy. Mathews (2004) defined a media policy as “a set of guiding principles and behaviors to help ensure consistent, fair and ethical communication with all of your constituents” (p.46). Those principles and behaviors should include identifying who within the organization speaks to the media, what employees should do if they are contacted by the media, and when coaches and players are available to the media. These policies should apply when individuals are being interviewed for a media story and are not just playing an information services role. Chapter 8 details the information services roles played by the sport public relations professional, and chapter 9 focuses on specific interview concerns.
Identifying the Organizational Spokesperson
The organizational spokesperson is the voice of the organization and answers the media’s questions. The spokesperson may be a senior member of the organization, such as a president or general manager, or may be one of the organization’s public relations professionals, such as a sports information director.
Some sport organizations develop a hierarchical approach to the spokesperson role based on the information that the media are seeking. Senior management may speak on topics of importance, and the public relations professional may address routine operations. For example, in the case of an announcement about a coach’s dismissal, the organization’s general manager or athletic director would be the best person to act as spokesperson because he or she is likely the person who decided to dismiss the coach. But if a media member is looking to confirm when tickets will go on sale for an organization’s postseason game, the public relations professional would usually handle the request. Chapter 9
discusses the advantages and disadvantages of
using senior management as organizational spokespeople.
At the college level, Stoldt, Miller, and Comfort (2001) found that athletic directors considered a sports information staff member to be their department’s top public relations official. But the same survey revealed that although athletic directors were highly confident regarding their sports information staff members’ ability to complete technical tasks such as maintaining media contacts, they were less confident in their ability to complete managerial tasks such as mediating conflicts, which may require the sports information director to act as a spokesperson.
A final rule of thumb for identifying an organizational spokesperson is to allow the person who has the greatest knowledge, and thus the highest degree of credibility, about a given subject to speak on behalf of the organization. As an example, let’s say that a university is building a new on-campus natatorium. A reporter may be interested in knowing precisely how much dirt needs to be moved to grade the land or how much concrete needs to be poured. In this case, the project manager is likely to have the most intimate knowledge of such details and would be the most credible spokesperson.
Developing an Employee Media Policy
Journalists are taught to be creative and enterprising when it comes to gathering information for a story. Occasionally, a reporter will bypass organizational protocol and contact an employee directly. Organizations should therefore have an employee media policy stating that only the organization’s public relations office will speak to the media.
If employees in another department such as accounting receive a call from a reporter, they should refer the reporter to the public relations office. In certain situations, the public relations person, after learning the nature of the reporter’s inquiry, may have the accounting employee talk to the reporter because that employee may be the best person to answer the question.
Determining Coach and Athlete Availability
Unique to sport organizations is coach and athlete availability. Coaches and athletes devote a great deal of time to competition and training and may view media interviews as a disruption to their preparation for an upcoming event. To minimize these intrusions, many sport organizations adopt media policies that set aside specific times when coaches and athletes will be available to speak with the media. Media understand that requests that fall outside those times may not be honored. Limitations might be considered for practice days as well as competition days.
Most policies on coach and athlete availability are communicated to the media either in the organization’s media guide or a news release. Media are usually required to contact the organization’s sports information or public relations office to arrange the interview ahead of time.
Rutgers University has adopted a policy regarding player interview availability for its football program that precludes player interviews after Wednesday on game weeks. Rutgers allows in-person interviews with players on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and additional availability is offered at times that are mutually convenient for the player and media. Similarly, Rutgers limits interviews with its head football coach to Mondays on the Big East conference call, Tuesdays at the stadium, and Wednesdays following practice. All other
times must be coordinated in advance (Rutgers, n.d.).
Adopting a policy such as the one used at Rutgers allows better planning on the part of the media, coaches, and athletes. Members of the media know that if they wish to speak with someone, they should plan on being at a certain location at a certain time. Coaches and athletes know that they will not be continually distracted by interviews as they prepare for an upcoming competition.
Following an event, an organization may choose to open its locker room to the media following a cooling-off period of around 10 minutes. Most professional sport leagues mandate that coaches and athletes be available for interviews following a game. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) mandates that each team have an open locker room before and after a competition. Media representatives are allowed in the locker room for 45 minutes before a game, beginning 90 minutes before tip-off. They are allowed back into the locker room 10 minutes after the conclusion of the game. On nongame days, players and coaches must be available for 30 minutes (Fortunato, 2000). Failure to adhere to these guidelines may result in sanctions against the team or individual. LeBron James, then of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was fined $25,000 by the NBA after he failed to make himself available to the media following the final game of the NBA’s 2009 Eastern Conference finals (LeBron Apologizes, 2009).