PRSSA welcomed Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne Tuesday for a lecture at Skinner Hall. Byrne’s presentation offered students a look into the world of sports public relations and also recommendations for getting into the field. As a student interested in working in sports public relations, Byrne’s advice was invaluable.
While many people brush off sports as no more than a pastime, Byrne emphasized that our culture is measured by how many eyes are on the TV, and the most-watched programs of all-time have been Super Bowls. Football has become a religion and a passion for fans across the nation. Byrne stressed that the NFL brings the community together in ways others can’t.
Keep it Covered
Some of the most surprising information Byrne shared was about the amount of coverage NFL games receive. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun have no reporters covering the Middle East and only one reporter covering the White House. Last year, the Baltimore Sun sent 27 reporters to the Super Bowl and 35 in 2007. There are more than 100 reporters at every game, more than 200 at Sunday Night Football and Thanksgiving Day games, and more than 300 at playoff games. “Despite having all of our own weapons, we find it impossible to break our own stories because we are so covered,” Byrne said. The Sun has three reporters assigned to cover the Ravens full-time, and Byrne noted that the Ravens PR team tries to convince these reporters to leave the newspapers and work for the franchise so they can break their own news.
In the Face of a Crisis
A high point of the presentation was when Byrne spoke about how the PR team handles a crisis, and specifically the recent scandal with Ray Rice. He received calls in the middle of the night immediately following the incident and the first step the PR team took was to have a representative say that they were aware of the incident and were gathering more information. In the case of a crisis it’s important to notify all members of the franchise including the head coach, general manager and the players. Byrne said that the first audience is in the locker room. “They want to see how it’s handled because they’re thinking, ‘What if it were me?'” He stressed the importance of communicating and keeping every member of the team and management informed. This information was extremely helpful to hear because there are so many incidents of scandals in the NFL and advice like this will be useful for a future in the field.
The field of sports PR is as competitive as the teams it covers, but Byrne gave some advice for making the cut. When applying to work for a team, a transcript and grades don’t matter. Employers are looking for a resume that shows you did more than go to school. They want to know what are the things you’ve done to make you different? Many of the interns the Ravens hire have worked for school newspapers, radio, ESPN and especially their university teams. Internships and experience are key to advancing in the business.
Writing is clearly one of the most important skills for PR practitioners because if you can’t write, you can’t be in the business. However some of the most useful advice Byrne gave was that you not only have to have the ability to communicate, but also be able to get people to say yes. You must get players to say yes to the interview. This skill trumps good writing skills in Byrne’s opinion. This was new information to me and will be important moving forward.
This summer I will be interning with the Boston Red Sox. Although the MLB is fairly different than the NFL, I’m hoping that this experience and Byrne’s advice will give me a good foundation to continue in the field. Byrne noted that it is often more difficult for women in the sports PR business because they want males who will be able to enter the locker room for statements and information. This gives me the drive to work hard and essentially “win the game,” and I’ll be sure to keep information from Byrne in mind during every play I make.