Six Tips for PR Pros Pitching Niche Sports



This weekend, the biggest cycling event on U.S. soil began its nearly 800-mile trek through the state of California. For those who don’t know, the Amgen Tour of California hosts the best of the best in the sport (yes, Tour de France winners) in a grueling eight-day stage race. Cycling is a lot of things — beautiful, accessible, unbelievably tough and very much a team sport. Yet, it hasn’t been able to garner mass interest or front-page attention in the U.S. — some high-profile crises situations aside.

Most consumer media outlets do not have a dedicated cycling reporter, which leaves the people responsible for drumming up media interest (us) to wade through a very crowded marketplace filled with countless other niche sports. Not only do we have to get a reporter interested in the story we’re pitching, but we often have to start by sparking some interest in covering the sport in the first place. The challenge is amplified by shrinking newsrooms and increasing reporter responsibilities.

While we’re lucky to have a multitude of new tools to develop our own content for clients across a variety of platforms, most sports organizations still want a dose of traditional media. So how do you break through the clutter? After more than a decade of handling public relations for a variety of niche sports, including three different professional cycling teams, we’ve sharpened the skills and strategy it takes to come out on top:

 Katrina Younce accompanies legendary Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini to a press conference during the 2008 Tour of California

Katrina Younce accompanies legendary Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini to a press conference during the 2008 Tour of California

1. Find the story.

You’ve likely heard it (several times) before, but the importance of storytelling is paramount. The common link to our success across multiple teams and sports is our ability to unearth and communicate the unique stories. When you work in a niche sport, you can’t rely on reporters to cover the game or event itself. You might have to find someone “off the sports pages” who wants to listen. Reporters might not care about the event, or even the sport, but they will care about the stories — the athlete who overcame a chronic illness to become a champion, the one who defected from Cuba to find a better life, or another who left a career on Wall Street to pursue his athletic dreams. Human interest angles can set you apart from the fray and every athlete has a story to tell, you just have to find it.

2. Examine your assets. Dig deep.

When you don’t have a marquee athlete on your list of available interviewees to capture instant interest, you might have to dig a little deeper to find a point of interest. Every reporter is different and it’s important to identify the assets you have to work with early on. Whether it’s the athletes on your team, the executives behind it, the sponsors, or even the fans. How can you utilize the people that make up your organization in new and different ways? What partnerships can you talk about? Is there a local or regional tie to the race or event that you can exploit? What videos or photos can you offer to bulk up your story? Find every angle you possibly can and then find more. Before every big event, talk about what’s new and how you can tell your story in a fresh way.

3. Get a head start.

I don’t want to give away the store, but a big part of our success is simply starting early. For an event like the Amgen Tour of California, we research and cultivate our target list of reporters months in advance. We aim to get in touch with the local consumer outlets and industry publications as they are beginning to work on their coverage plans, enabling us to seize opportunities in large part because we beat other teams to the punch. This works for two reasons:

1. It’s easier to gain attention from reporters when they aren’t underwater trying to cover the event or game itself.

2. It protects the pitch and story from getting lost once the event begins. Whether we win or lose, our stories are already in the can and often published as a lead-in to the event.

4. Make the reporter’s life easy.

Our goal is to make our clients the most media-friendly teams/athletes in their respective sports and it works to our advantage. Be accessible and encourage the athletes to be accessible (as much as you can). Produce detailed background materials that can help reporters who might not know anything about your sport and always come prepared. This is the easy stuff and everyone should do it, but they don’t. Not only does it make you, and by default your team, stand out, but it can result in bigger and better stories.

5. Be persistent & consistent.

Do the work to build your community of reporters before you need them. No, they might not write every story you offer, but if you do it right, I guarantee they will come to you when they have a hole to fill. Our communication with reporters most often comes from a place of, “how can we help you” and by consistently (and persistently) offering unique story ideas and resources for stories, we now have reporters coming to us and asking for our latest ideas. They know they can find a story with our clients if they need one.

6. Play the long game.

The best stories take time. Sometimes lots and lots of time. Don’t give up. And when in doubt, take the reporter out for drinks. You might just get a shout out when the story eventually runs.