2016 Sports PR Summit: Key Takeaways

Last week, senior PR executives from across the sports world gathered together in New York City at the Players' Tribune Headquarters for the 4th annual Sports PR Summit to connect, share best practices, and participate in high-level discussions about the issues and trends shaping our industry.

With a stellar lineup of speakers representing ownership, current and retired athletes, PR brass from every league, and top brand/agency professionals, the discussions addressed the impact of what we do from a variety of perspectives.

For those who didn’t attend, the crowd on site contributed enough material via Twitter to make #SPORTSPRSUMMIT a trending topic (all of it is worth a scan) and event organizers published a full recap of each presentation here.  

Throughout the featured conversations and panel discussions, there were also some consistent themes and overarching takeaways worthy of note:  

Storytelling drives PR success.

As PR continues to evolve, the success of any campaign is not based on the tools or channels we use to communicate, but on the strength of our storytelling. In other words, the discussion is less about the reasons why we should be incorporating Snapchat, Instagram or any other tools into a campaign, and more about how we use these platforms to tell great stories.

Athletes are becoming more strategic when it comes to their use of digital media.

 Jeff Gordon discusses the power of social media at the Sports PR Summit

Jeff Gordon discusses the power of social media at the Sports PR Summit

While NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon admits to not understanding why he would want to send “a mass text to the world” in the early days of Twitter, Gordon and the other participating athletes all recognized the importance of engaging with a purpose and being thoughtful about the things they share.  They also see the power in authenticity and the positive impact their personal stories, struggles and insights into their real lives, can make both for the fans and for themselves.

Social issues are becoming more important to sports fans.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross said it best: “The public is looking to sports to deal with social issues, which has never been the case before.”  On issues from gender equity and racial discrimination to mental illness and more, sports can play a role in driving social change.  Athletes too, better recognize their influence, and are increasingly looking for ways to leverage it for good. As PR practitioners, this shouldn’t be overlooked as a strategic component. We not only have the ability to help drive awareness for these important issues, but at the same time, tell stories fans care about.  

Inaccuracy in reporting remains a frustration.


In the age of real-time reporting and the media’s race to get news out quickly, PR professionals continue to deal with issues of inaccuracy, incomplete facts, and the problems/aftermath these elements create. In a profession where a core function is to service the press with information and facts, major gaps in reporting occur when journalists do not engage with PR people.  “If you’re going to write about us, check your facts with us,” said NBA Executive VP of Communications Mike Bass, a comment that prompted a nod of agreement from nearly every person in the room.  Athletes are equally frustrated. Said former NBA player Larry Sanders, “When there is no communication, there is imagination.”

Twitter still rules, for now.

While only a small portion of the population is on Twitter, nearly every member of the media IS.  That means Twitter is still the epicenter of breaking news and story proliferation. It’s where both truth and misinformation spread like wildfire. To that end, monitoring Twitter and staying on top of what’s being said is crucial. Twitter is THE early warning system.

Women are still underrepresented at the top.

While women make up 63% of Public Relations specialists in America, the majority of executives at the top are predominantly male.  In sports, the situation is similar. While the room was well populated with women, the heads of PR for all the major leagues today are all male. What was evident, however, was their awareness and acknowledgement that more work needs to be done and that sports can lead the way.  Said the LPGA’s Kraig Kann, “We have an obligation to grow the next generation of female leaders." 

Sports PR pros benefit from networking with one another.

While we all know of one another and are connected via social media, there are few opportunities to interact with one another face-to-face.  Having so many senior sports PR professionals in one room for a day of high-level discussion, networking and exchanging of ideas, is rare and valuable.   

A big thanks to Sports PR Summit Founder Brian Berger and his team for delivering another stellar event. Next up, the 2016 Sports PR Summit Social Media Workshop on Wednesday, July 20 at the Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco. For more information, click here.

Other related coverage:

Recap of the Sports PR Summit Presented by Players Tribune

You Missed Good Stuff: The Infographic from the Sports PR Summit

Portland-driven Sports PR Summit brings out the stars in NYC